"We're connecting the dots. I love being part of a team which brings people together and contributes little parts to make a whole project," said Brian Rast, Kansas City District Lead Silver Jackets Coordinator for Kansas and Missouri.
Through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources, program funding is provided to Corps of Engineers districts enabling them to partner with agencies in reducing risks from natural hazards. This program is called Silver Jackets.
"Our mission is to participate with state and federal agencies in actions leading to measurable hazards mitigation with the strongest focus on flood hazards," said Rast. "Public involvement and levee safety have been on the horizon for special projects in the past several years. We've been able to capitalize on this emphasis to provide public awareness and to help agencies think about the next actions - not just relying on levees."
In 2014, a Silver Jackets levee safety pilot project was initiated along the Missouri River in Buchanan County, Missouri. Through this pilot project the Silver Jackets team worked on developing a template for emergency action plans which outlined who does what and when during a high-water emergency. Meaning, if water is forecasted to reach a certain level, the template action plan provides an outline for the levee sponsors to plan for a response action and create a process for multiple scenarios. The hope is for other levee sponsors to see this action and be able to create their own plans in the future.
Rast explained several Silver Jacket projects are launched each year, depending on funding through the Institute for Water Resources, to work with state and federal agencies on water-related solutions. One of those past projects was Missouri River flood-forecast inundation maps from Leavenworth, Kansas to Parkville, Missouri. The main focus of the project was understanding information faster in order to communicate quicker.
"We recognized our technical expertise through a geographic information system, emergency management, hydraulic teams and more, and realized we could create a two-dimensional model for that stretch of the river," said Rast. "Missouri River Flood Event Simulation Mapping was the product outcome of this effort. In coordination with forecasts from the Weather Service, we have a team of experts that can create a complex model in eight hours that can map potential impacts allowing for quicker communication to communities."
As the Silver Jackets program continues to gain traction, funding for project implementation is increasing. For 2018, the Silver Jackets program has more than $1.1 million combined for Missouri and Kansas.
Just one effort on the horizon this year is to work with the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association to help communicate flood-risk management. This effort will be focused on capturing important messages and communicating certain themes to local communities.
"We kicked this effort off in October 2017 and expect it will take about a year. We will focus on who the Corps of Engineers is, where our boundaries are and who to contact for assistance. We will also note who the state agencies are, the levee systems in the area, how they work, and provide inundation mapping and online resources," explained Rast.
Another focus will be engaging and communicating with the new generation of levee sponsors.
"We want to train the next generation of risk managers. We want to connect the dots, the resources and technical services to communities and levee sponsors in Kansas and Missouri," said Rast. "Risk management involves risk communication and risk assessment as well as a sustained effort by these communities and levee sponsors."
The Corps of Engineers is dedicated to the Silver Jackets program and its several projects.
"We have a cadre of technical experts and look forward to sharing information with agencies and communities," said Rast. "Find us online to learn more about Silver Jackets and our process for connecting the dots with agencies and communities."