HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – With the 2014 hurricane season upon us, 10 critical facilities throughout Chesapeake, Gloucester County and James City County can rest easier knowing their emergency power needs have been accurately documented.
A partnership formed last fall between the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Old Dominion University student and faculty assets, and the Hampton Roads Emergency Management Committee, provided communities a clearer picture of their critical facility emergency power needs – at no cost.
Under the partnership agreement, ODU seniors majoring in computer and electrical engineering conducted the emergency power assessments.
Cost estimates to provide these critical emergency power assessments range from $3,000 per facility for an electrical engineer to slightly less for an electrician, said Robb Braidwood, Chesapeake Emergency Management deputy coordinator and the project’s brainchild.
“Smaller communities throughout Hampton Roads don’t always have the budget to conduct proper emergency power need assessments of their critical facilities,” Braidwood said. “By leveraging college students for this task, localities here obtained much-needed facility assessments while ODU senior students gained valuable hands-on experience.”
When the magnitude of a disaster is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments to manage, the federal government is called in. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of more than 100 federal departments and agencies that provide assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
“All requests for federal assistance come from local communities up to the state, which communicate the combined requests to FEMA,” said Stan Ballard, Norfolk District’s emergency manager.
Ballard has significant experience in major disaster response operations to include: Northridge Earthquake (Los Angeles-1994); Hurricane Georges (Puerto Rico-1998); Hurricane Floyd (Virginia-1999); 911 World Trade Center Operation (New York City-2001); Typhoon Chata’an (Guam-2002); Hurricane Ivan (Alabama-2004); Hurricane Rita (Texas-2005); and Hurricane Wilma (Florida-2005).
“After a disaster strikes, time is critical! Those communities that include completed emergency power needs assessments with their written request for FEMA assistance get acted on more quickly,” Ballard said. “Communities that lack these critical emergency power assessments must wait until a technical team evaluates the facility for emergency power before a generator is sized and installed. That could take days depending on circumstances.”
The vision for this partnership began to take focus in the fall of 2012, when Ballard, Jan Van Houten, Norfolk District emergency management specialist, and Braidwood met for a routine emergency management planning session.
“Braidwood asked if there was a way to get ODU electrical engineering students to perform emergency power assessments for localities facing budget constraints,” Ballard said.
After brainstorming various ideas, the group, which included David Gary, Norfolk District’s Mechanical/Electrical Section chief, met with Dr. Shirshak Dhali, ODU Electrical and Computer Engineering Department head, to discuss his student’s involvement.
Dhali agreed to join the project, provided the team could work out design proposal details.
“My initial concern was the engineering design content of the project,” Dhali said. “Since this is a capstone, or top-rated design project, we have to be particularly careful that these type projects have the appropriate level of design.”
The Corps team took on the challenge and came up with a project design proposal that fulfilled the school’s requirements. The proposal was posted along with others for ODU students to choose from at the beginning of their 2013 fall semester.
“Most of the proposals come from our faculty, but, occasionally, we get a few project design proposals from industry or NASA,” Dhali said. “Our goal is to increase the number of projects from outside our department as industry and government agencies provide welcomed practical projects that give our students a better learning experience.”
ODU seniors, Amanda Downs, electrical engineering, Chance Rabun, electrical engineering and Michael Chatman, computer engineering, chose the Emergency Power Needs for Critical Facilities project, with Dhali as their faculty advisor.
The team conducted the study as a senior level project for their Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semester credit hours. They focused their assessments primarily on improving the electrical power distribution system within each evaluated facility, and developing a matrix to help the Corps determine the likelihood of each facility losing power during a natural disaster. Design upgrades that were considered included solar power, automatic transfer switches, and diesel generators.
The 10 evaluated facilities and their vital functions are:
· Chesapeake Correctional Facility (inmate housing; public safety)
· Chesapeake Public Safety Building (police; fire/rescue; and paramedic dispatch)
· Chesapeake Information Technology Department (computer servers for critical city functions and information)
· Chesapeake Administration, Buildings 1 and 2 (emergency management; police; fire/rescue; and paramedic dispatch)
· Gloucester County Department of Public Services (control of public utilities)
· Gloucester County Department of Social Services (control information on at-risk personnel; manage emergency shelters)
· James City County Human Services Building (emergency management)
· James City County Recreation Center (emergency shelter)
· James City County Medical Center (medical services)
“I speak for both my teammates that this was a great opportunity to get some real-world, hands-on experience in electrical engineering in the power industry, as well as project management exposure of a multiple organization project,” Downs said. “The Corps support team was instrumental in helping us begin and structure our project. They researched and provided us with the facilities for evaluation, guided us through the Corps requirements, and provided general guidance on how the assessments were to be performed.”
Gary, an ODU graduate, acted as the team’s senior electrical engineering project advisor, while Van Houten took care of all administrative details that ensured the team direct and easy access to project sites and facility managers.
“We really enjoyed being able to travel and see how each local government managed their facilities, and prepared for a natural disaster,” Downs said.
Once the assessments were completed, Downs’ team compiled the data and performed calculations to determine the appropriate diesel generator and connection cables.
“It was really interesting to see how the different facilities approached their emergency power needs, and how the area economy impacted their level of preparedness for each locality,” Downs said.
Once the final project was completed, Gary reviewed the study findings for accuracy.
“The ODU student project team prepared a complete and comprehensive report,” Gary said.
The importance they placed on completing these generator assessments before a major disaster strikes will pay huge dividends, he added.
“I want to express my gratitude to Ballard and his team for taking the time to mentor our students,” Dhali said. “This fall, our engineering department will again assign senior design projects to our graduating seniors. We welcome another Corps design project and an opportunity to work with Ballard’s team in the future.”