By John DavesFebruary 27, 2018
DORADO, Puerto Rico -- It feels like yesterday that Ben Bremer began working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but after only fifteen years, he is quickly fulfilling his dream. Ben has taken the Corps' Temporary Roofing (Blue Roof) mission to the next level by developing a valuable training course for deployees and assisting with the implementation of an electronic high tech solution to collect field data.
A native of Mountain Home Arkansas, Bremer, who had deployed only one other time before Hurricane Irma, is now working as the Deputy Resident Engineer for the Blue Roof mission in Dorado, Puerto Rico.
When Bremer started working for the Corps of Engineers, in 2003, he never dreamed of being part of something so big. Ben works as a construction manager for the Little Rock District where he oversees construction work at Bull Shoals, Norfork, Table Rock, and Beaver Lake projects.
Bremer first deployed to Houston, TX, in 2008 for Hurricane Ike to serve as a Blue Roof Quality Assurance (QA) Inspector. During the mission, he was promoted to team leader, then supervisor, and soon tasked with reducing mission inconsistencies by creating an on the ground training class from scratch. Bremer credits Mark Harris, a geologist from the Little Rock District, who served as resident engineer on that mission, for being a significant influence on him by taking him under his wing, and mentoring him, not only during Hurricane Ike but also throughout his career and life challenges.
In the years following the Hurricane Ike mission, Bremer and other Temporary Roofing program leaders were tasked with standing up a project development team in charge of creating a training program explicitly for deploying QAs. During this time, a new initiative started to transition from a carbon copy form-based process into a more streamlined and electronic-based data system. These new methods would necessitate several updates to the training program. Bremer worked intricately with the Field Management System developers from the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center, located in Vicksburg, MS, to tailor this new training program.
The FMS system utilizes GIS technology to produce an almost real-time data collection, work dispatching, and reporting system. Smartphones and tablets, loaded with the app, issues each QA allows them to collect data. Disaster victims can sign up for assistance utilizing the electronic device, which collects general information and asks several qualifier questions. The coordinates and the homeowner's data is sent to the QA in the field. Using map software, the QA navigates to the home to assess damage, inputs the pertinent data to include roof repair quantity estimates and uploads photos of the damage. The information is transferred onsite to the FMS command center where the job is processed and electronically issued to a contractor for repairs. The contractor then notifies the Corps when work is complete. Finally, the QA is sent information via their smartphone app for a follow-up quality inspection.
"The app is a much more efficient way of collecting, organizing, and sharing data while allowing a quicker response time to address citizens' needs," Bremer said.
There Corps has four USACE Temporary Roofing PDTs with professionals from St. Louis, Omaha, Nashville, and Little Rock Districts. The team leaders meet annually to update and improve the SOPs, contracts, and training material.
"The training portion is always evolving and changing as we apply lessons learned from each disaster," said Bremer.
Following Hurricane Irma's landfall, Bremer deployed to Florida on Sept. 11, 2017, to begin the implementation of the new training program, since its development, to the first groups of responders. Ben held daily training classes for incoming QAs at the Tampa Emergency Operations Center before launching them out to the field, equipped with the FMS app loaded smartphones.
"The FMS app truly met our expectations and proved itself during the mission in Florida," said Bremer.
As things were ramping up in Florida, Hurricane Maria made her devastating landfall across the Caribbean. Bremer said he was asked to deploy to Puerto Rico to set up training for a second Temporary Roofing mission.
"Puerto Rico immediately presented several challenges to the overall program and established training methods," Bremer said. "First, the storm had destroyed practically the entire power grid and cellular communications network, then there was the language barrier, and to top it all off, we realized the island did not utilize the traditional 911 addressing system we had trained for," he said. Despite the obstacles, Ben, and his team were still able to stand up the mission by making on the fly adjustments. By Oct. 4, 2017, they conducted their first Blue Roof training class in Dorado and continued to move forward with the mission.
At the same time, Bremer was needed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, so with the training mission stood up in Puerto Rico he left six days later. He joined Mark Harris, his mentor, in the Virgin Islands where he served as a mission specialist. Bremer finished this deployment and returned home in time for Halloween.
In January 2018, Bremer returned to Puerto Rico in the role of Deputy Resident Engineer over the Blue Roof mission.
"I have always aspired to serve in the capacity of a Resident Engineer on one of these missions, as it is most fitting to my education and the type of work I do back home," Bremer stated.
Bremer, whose story is one of pure hard work, dedication, and creativity, will return home to write up his after action report of the missions and consult with other members of the team to fine-tune the process in preparation for future deployments before the start of the next hurricane season.