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Assessments critical step in battling COVID-19 pandemic

Published May 5, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread throughout the Midwest, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, was tasked by FEMA to start assessing sites for possible use as alternate care facilities.

During a five-week period from mid-March thru April 23, multiple three and four-man teams from the Omaha District conducted more than 100 site assessments across seven states (Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Iowa). The type of facilities being looked at included college dormitories, closed hospitals and civic centers.

“I believe that the intent is we don't want to create a situation where one team is moving all over the state evaluating facilities. If they were to contract the virus we don't want that to propagate, so all these teams are going out on a case-by-case basis,” explained Andy Temeyer, an architect with the Omaha District who headed up one of the teams looking at two dormitories in Nebraska.

Each team went into the site they were evaluating with a checklist that was dependent on what type of conversion was being considered. Some sites were being considered to treat COVID-19 patients, others, non-Covid-19 patients to free up hospital space, and some were being considered for medical workers to live in so that they would not risk unknowingly taking the virus home to their family and contribute to the community spread of the pandemic.

The dormitories that Temeyer and his team were inspecting were being considered for the latter two groups.

“So we were taking a really strong look at the infrastructure that provides power water, sewer and gas to each individual unit to ensure that they have adequate capacities,” said Temeyer. “We were trying to document all of those cases and all of those conditions, so that decision makers can come together and decide whether they want to actually pursue renovating the facility.”

The inspections are just one step in the process. Once the inspections were completed, Temeyer and his team still had work to do.

“So the next step is, go right back, start writing the reports,” he said. “Those reports document all of our findings in as much detail as we can possibly manage. There's a checklist in a form that we fill out that that is accompanied with a memo from the Corps of Engineers that will then be quality reviewed a couple of times before it gets sent off to the state.”

That scenario was completed over and over, across every state that the Omaha District was called upon to lend their expertise. Once the inspections and reports were completed, it was up to each state to decide whether or not to move forward.

“It was a great job by all those involved in the assessments,” said Col. John Hudson, commander, Omaha District. “All of the states have found the assessments very helpful in developing their plans on how to battle the COVID-19 virus.”

“It's important that we communicate that we're not here to inspect or to pass judgment on what facilities are qualified or don't qualify,” Temeyer stressed. “Those decisions are made by other people. We're just here to document and report on what conditions we see and leave it up to the state on what is the best way to move forward.”

As of early May, USACE has completed 1,139 site assessments in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Of those, there have been 36 contracts for alternate care facilities across 17 states, one Tribal nation, one territory, and the District of Columbia awarded.

(Editor’s note: Watch Temeyer and his team in action here.)