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District’s technical center of expertise provides rapid response during emergencies

Published Sept. 16, 2020
Tim Gouger (right) program manager, Rapid Response, Omaha District Technical Center of Expertise, speaks with Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, USACE South Atlantic Division Commander,at the Palo Seco power plant in Puerto Rico, Dec. 2017.  The rapid response team assisted with setting up two backup mega generators to provide temporary power in the aftermath of hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017.

Tim Gouger (right) program manager, Rapid Response, Omaha District Technical Center of Expertise, speaks with Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, USACE South Atlantic Division Commander,at the Palo Seco power plant in Puerto Rico, Dec. 2017. The rapid response team assisted with setting up two backup mega generators to provide temporary power in the aftermath of hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017.

With September and October being the peak hurricane months, the Omaha District's rapid response team stands ready to offer disaster relief assistance should the need arise.  According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association the 2020 hurricane season has already set a record by logging 20 storms as of Sept. 14.

In the event of an emergency, natural or man-made, members from the district’s rapid response team of 19 personnel can deploy quickly – usually within 72 hours. 

This ability to respond quickly is due in part to the rapid disaster infrastructure program.  These mission assignment task order contracts are time sensitive and deal primarily with disaster response and recovery efforts. 

“Everything that we do is time sensitive,” said Tim Gouger, program manager, rapid response technical center of expertise. “Part of my job is to make sure that there is situational awareness about the contract tool that is in place and how it can be leveraged to support the mission, federal agencies and other Corps districts.”

The scope of projects includes flood and infrastructure recovery, emergency management, construction, environmental and military installation support.     

Gouger says that depending on the scope of the mission he sometimes wears multiple hats, acting as a program manager, working with contracting and mentoring the different divisions and project managers.   

As the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold, at the request of Federal Emergency Management Agency and state governors, members from the rapid response team quickly deployed to different states to perform site assessments for potential alternate care facilities.  

Anticipating a surge in COVID-19 cases, the team quickly identified locations suitable for conversions or build-outs to provide additional patient bed space in the event hospitals became overwhelmed.

In total, the District’s rapid response team was involved with four major alternate care facility projects in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

 “I have a great passion for doing this work, it fuels me in a positive way – and it’s very challenging,” Gouger said. “Every project is different. You’re working at different locations, with different cultures and there are a variety of demands. We really have a great business model and it’s rewarding to see our team come together and meet or exceed our customers’ expectations.”

The TCX rapid response team has extensive experience responding to a variety of disasters including the 2019 Midwest flood event, 2017 hurricane Maria and the current pandemic.

Mark Meachum, section chief, special projects branch, says that the ebb and flow of the work can sometimes be a challenge. There may be several months when not much is going on and there is not a need for a rapid response; knowing how to place and use your resources accordingly is very important.

“At times there are six or seven projects that will come in at about the same time,” Mechum said. “We need to make sure that we have the personnel, managers and the project engineers to cover all of those assignments which can sometimes present a real challenge.” 

Recently, working with the Department of Interior, the team responded to an abandoned coal mine fire in Cumberland, Washington. Most of the fire was extinguished in about three weeks, Meachum explained.   

“I enjoy having the opportunity to help people in need every time there’s a disaster response,” Meacham said. “To be able to go out and get things fixed is rewarding.”   

The program also provides technical expertise by leveraging the district’s vast engineering resources and using integrated project delivery teams. Depending on the scope of the project, these subject matter experts work with various stakeholders at the local, state and federal level.

The program began in 1989 as the disaster relief initiative and quickly evolved over the years becoming streamlined and more efficient at responding to disasters in a timely manner. 

Today, the District’s TCX convenes an internal review board to determine if the project request is time-sensitive and can be supported by the rapid disaster infrastructure program.

For additional information visit: https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/About/Centers-of-Expertise/Rapid-Response/