PITTSBURGH – Less than 12 hours after Hurricane Ida battered the Gulf region, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District prepared to help restore power to the impacted region.
Initiated by FEMA’s emergency declaration for Louisiana and the surrounding area, Pittsburgh District deployed 13 people beginning Aug. 29.
The Pittsburgh team was among six other district teams who deployed to form Task Force Temporary Emergency Power, tasked to help restore power in the Gulf region and surrounding states in response to Hurricane Ida.
“It’s selfless service. It takes someone who knows that people somewhere else in the country are without power, and their actions – when they get on the ground – is to help them,” said Al Coglio, the chief of emergency management for the Pittsburgh District.
FEMA allocated approximately $53 million to support states impacted by Hurricane Ida. Most of those funds were dedicated to Louisiana, but portions were allocated to Mississippi and Tennessee.
The Pittsburgh team staged in Alabama to support Tennessee specifically, and since that area did not face the devastating impact as originally expected, the team’s mission was complete within a week of deploying.
“I appreciate people willing to volunteer, because they’re going into an unknown. In this case they were only gone for a couple of days. In the past, they’ve been gone for up to 45, 50, 75, 100 days. That’s tough to ask people to do,” said Coglio.
Additionally, four members of the Readiness Team stayed in the Pittsburgh District office along with five activated members of the Crisis Action Team to coordinate mission support.
Members of the Crisis Action Team perform this mission “on-call” as collateral duty, meaning they pause their full-time jobs within the district to respond to a crisis. The same is true of volunteers who deploy.
“It really reverberates throughout the district. When you deploy a lock operator, that means the rest of the district has to cover that person’s work, because the district’s work does not stop,” said Coglio.
In total, the Pittsburgh District has a roster of 65 volunteers who are trained and ready to deploy in support of FEMA disaster relief. When a deployment request arrives, volunteers are expected to be ready within six hours to hop on a plane or hit the road and go.
“I just think it takes a special kind of person to step up and basically jump into the unknown, because you don’t know if it’s a week, if it’s two weeks, if it’s two months,” said Coglio.
Whenever Task Force Temporary Emergency Power initiates, it includes military engineers from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The 249th Eng. Bn. specializes in power assessments and power services. They respond to disaster areas by providing power to critical facilities, such as hospitals.
The power team oversees contractors responsible for providing generators to areas in need, as well as installing, refueling, and maintaining until removing the generators at the end of the mission.
By the time Hurricane Ida moved past Louisiana and travelled north, Pittsburgh District’s Emergency Operation Center had been active for 15 days straight because of their support with Tropical Storm Henri in the northeast earlier that month.
In addition to the Pittsburgh District’s efforts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed more than 400 people overall to coordinate with local, state and federal partners in affected areas. Their number one priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of those affected by Hurricane Ida. Their mission also includes providing temporary roofing and removing excess water from flooded areas.
“Mr. Rogers, a Pittsburgh native, said in any chaotic situation, always look for the helpers, and that’s what these folks are,” said Coglio.