U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Supports Derecho Recovery Efforts Across Iowa
By CourtesyOctober 19, 2020
Weeks after an intense, fast-moving windstorm, called a derecho, ripped through portions of the Rock Island District producing winds estimated at 140 miles per hour, the sound of chainsaws buzzing could still be heard in the streets of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.The devastating storm, which came with little warning, caused widespread power outages and extensive damage to trees and buildings in many communities across the state of Iowa.Following the storm a disaster was declared and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stepped in to aid in the state’s recovery efforts. In support of FEMA’s mission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked to provide technical support and guidance for the debris cleanup process.“FEMA called on the Corps to assist with this disaster just because of the sheer size of the disaster,” said Cory Haberman, Emergency Management Specialist at the Rock Island District and Assistant Team Lead for the mission. “It was over 700 miles long and just as wide.”The Corps’ involvement in the mission focuses around assessing the amount of debris including vegetative, and construction and demolition debris, which is created when homes and buildings are damaged, said Haberman. These assessments are then used by FEMA to ensure the state and local communities get the support they need for recovery.Matt Tate, a Natural Disaster Program Manager for the Corps, was one of two debris specialists called upon to assist with the mission. Tate, who works for the Mobile District, spends much of his time traveling for disaster support and has been involved with every disaster recovery effort handled by the Corps since 2003. His experience with debris management operations made him a prime candidate for determining the extent of damage following this hurricane-like storm.“This is one of the worst vegetative debris missions I have seen in my career that was a non-tropical event,” said Tate. “The amount of vegetative debris is in the millions of yards, just here in Cedar Rapids alone it’s enormous.”Measuring the amount of debris across the impacted area is a process Tate and his fellow debris subject matter expert, Herb Bullock, also from Mobile District, are very familiar with.“We arrive onsite. We conduct an initial site assessment, or as some people commonly call it, a windshield survey,” said Tate. “We drive through the communities, the towns, even counties, cities, looking at debris on the curbside, looking at the homes that may have been impacted for vegetative and C and D debris -- and by that I mean construction and demolition debris.”Once the initial survey is complete, the team puts together a full assessment which includes an estimated amount of debris that needs to be removed and processed. In the span of about two weeks Tate and Bullock provided full assessments for 17 Iowa counties.After the debris specialists complete their assessments, it is up to FEMA and the state to determine the next course of action. In some situations, the Corps gets more involved and assists with contracting debris removal services, Haberman explained. But in this case, the state and local communities were able to work with FEMA and the resources provided to get the job done.