Dereck Wansing, right, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District engineering technician and local government liaison supporting Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in Louisiana, discusses the Operation Blue Roof process to a homeowner in Houma, Louisiana, Oct. 12.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dereck Wansing, right, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District engineering technician and local government liaison supporting Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in Louisiana, discusses the Operation Blue Roof process to a homeowner in Houma, Louisiana, Oct. 12. (Photo Credit: Patrick Moes) VIEW ORIGINAL
Dereck Wansing, right, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District engineering technician and local government liaison supporting Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in Louisiana, discusses the Operation Blue Roof process to a homeowner in Houma, Louisiana, Oct. 12.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dereck Wansing, right, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District engineering technician and local government liaison supporting Hurricane Ida recovery efforts in Louisiana, discusses the Operation Blue Roof process to a homeowner in Houma, Louisiana, Oct. 12. (Photo Credit: Patrick Moes) VIEW ORIGINAL

Working amid piles of debris filled with waterlogged construction materials, furniture, toys, mounds of tree branches and storm-damaged homes is nothing new for Dereck Wansing, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District, engineering technician and local government liaison supporting the USACE Hurricane Ida recovery effort. He said volunteering for this type of work is not required but it is something that he is passionate about doing and doing well.

“This is where I’m most helpful,” he said as he looked around a severely damaged neighborhood in Houma, Louisiana, where several homes were no longer standing, and others had significant signs of damage from the Category 4 winds and torrential rains that impacted the region Aug. 29. “Helping people is what the mission is all about to me.”

As a local government liaison, Wansing said he acts as the bridge of communication between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and USACE. He said he and small team of liaisons deployed to the area following the storm to assist local government officials learn about USACE programs. In this capacity, he said he serves as the eyes and ears within the community to ensure the USACE programs serve the people that need them the most. “We have processes in place at times that people don’t understand,” he said. “Speaking with them one-on-one sometimes and letting them know that you empathize with their situation goes along way—that’s the reason we are all here.”

For Wansing, a U.S. Army military veteran and a USACE employee that has volunteered to support numerous disasters to include hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, the mission is all about listening to survivors, being able to speak a common language and connecting people with the right information or agencies for support. He said the biggest focus he has had during the Hurricane Ida recovery effort is getting the word out about the USACE Operation Blue Roof mission. The free service provides homeowners in disaster areas with fiber-reinforced, industrial-strength plastic sheeting to protect storm-damaged roofs until homeowners can make permanent repairs.

When not meeting with local government leaders, Wansing often veers off the beaten path to talk with locals about their situation and to listen to them. He said the importance of meeting with the survivors cannot be understated. “The most important thing about meeting with people is getting to hear their stories,” he said. “If you don’t listen to what they have to say, you are not going to have much credibility on what you are trying to tell them. We don’t want to be a salesperson out here; we want to help.”

That desire to help people is what keeps Wansing volunteering to leave his friends and family in northwest Missouri to support USACE disaster recovery missions around the United States. He said emergency response work is simply finding ways to connect people and programs. “It’s tough leaving home for 30, 45 days at a time,” he said, “but it’s fulfilling to know that you are making a difference.”

Similar to other storms such as hurricanes Michael and Maria, Wansing said the lasting memories from these events are the stories of the survivors and their road to recovery. He said he’s able to hear the stories because he is constantly trying to put himself in the places where the people need the most help.

“For me, every event is an opportunity to get out and see the impact that I have when I meet with survivors,” he said. “Occasionally seeing tears on the faces of the people I am helping is touching, but it also serves as a reminder about why I can here. We all have important jobs—or we think they are important back home, but there is nothing more important than when people need help like they do in Louisiana.”

In total, more 725 USACE employees directly supported Hurricane Ida recovery efforts within Louisiana. These employees came from nearly every USACE district, division, and lab. Lt. Col. Paul Stambaugh, Operation Blue Roof officer in charge at the New Orleans office, said the fact that so many people from so many different locations volunteered to support the recovery operations is meaningful. “It’s a testament to the USACE mission and the people that make up the Corps of Engineers,” he said. “USACE is committed to assisting those it can that are unfortunately affected by natural disasters, and that is what we are doing here. USACE employees remain dedicated to helping others.”