Six feet of murky river water swirls around desks, seeps through walls and begins corroding wires.
It’s a scenario that would put Norfolk District out for six months and cause $10 million or more in damage.
“All it would take is a hurricane catching us at high tide and that could be a reality for us,” said Stan Ballard, district emergency management services chief.
Ballard gathered leadership for Continuity of Operations meeting, or COOP, to anticipate needs, abilities and work-arounds for the more than 300 Norfolk District employees in such a scenario.
“We’re looking at how we’re going to operate, whether we’ll be able to depend on telework and what size facility we will need to move to,” Ballard said.
With sea-level rise and the threat of hurricanes that loom each year, the Norfolk District projected how the district would operate and execute post-hurricane assignments without a worksite.
Specifically, even if Norfolk District became a “victim district,” its in-place contracts, studies and other missions would not stop. In addition, the district, as a result of a presidential disaster declaration and a Federal Emergency Management Agency tasking, would have an emergency response mission that would include emergency power, bottled water distribution; temporary housing and roofing; debris management and removal; and various forms of technical assistance.
In similar situations, like hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, other districts come in to help the victim district with their missions. That’s where the Corps’ Deployable Tactical Operations System would come in.
The recreation vehicle-type command center would, at FEMA’s direction, deploy to the area of Norfolk District. Packed inside the DTOS are 12 computer work stations, a video teleconference room, wireless capabilities, and three days of power from one tank of diesel fuel.
After hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the vehicles provided desperately needed power and work capabilities on the ground, where it was needed most.
The COOP coincided with the arrival of a mobile center based out of Baltimore District. The center and the on-board crew were able to meet yearly training requirements by hitting the road.
Michael Vacarro, a team leader with three years experience operating the DTOS, was training the crew.
“When we get a FEMA tasking, we have six hours to basically drop everything and get to the vehicle,” Vacarro said.
Baltimore District’s DTOS is kept in Pennsylvania, and a team can deploy up to 15 days or more to support a district or a mission. Vacarro deployed with the deployable system after several disasters and said the capabilities are impressive.
“When we can get out there and do what we need to do, lives are saved,” he said.
Since the early 1990’s, Norfolk District has been examining vulnerabilities if faced with hurricane damage. And since then, water has lapped at the district’s doors during nor’easters and Category 1 hurricanes.
“The COOP is about being prepared,” said Ballard. “We have to be ready for anything.”