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Homeland Security

Mission not impossible: responding to disaster

October 10, 2012

By Mr. Andrew A Kornacki (USACE)

Natural disasters, like hurricanes and floods, have the ability to display the sheer power and untamed fury of nature. They move unmovable objects, uproot trees, destroy homes and leave in their path destruction greater than the largest bombs. Once water levels recede and winds calm, people find their lives have been turned upside down. More often than not, the only possessions they have left are the clothes they are wearing or what they were able to carry with them.

Infrastructure in the path of destruction does not fare much better. Roads are washed away, power is often knocked out, only foundations remain where homes once stood and there is little separation between the water people drink and raw sewage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District is part of a broad Planning and Response Team (PRT). The PRT is a special team of individuals who respond to disasters like flooding and hurricanes within days of the end of a disaster. Buffalo District has been tasked with for supporting the Infrastructure Assessment (IA) mission of the team's efforts.

"The work that the team does is hard work," said Bill Pioli, Buffalo District Safety Specialist. "It is hard work, but the satisfaction you get from helping others that just lost so much, well, that is worth every minute spent helping them."

The IA team has a difficult but important mission. They are responsible for determining how sound a structure is. This includes homes, businesses, and a wide variety of other buildings. The IA team members are the ones who determine the occupancy capacity of structures after a disaster. The team can also be called on to help assess the condition and functionality of critical infrastructure such as waste water treatment plants.

Recently, Pioli and Steve Vriesen, an Environmental Engineer with the Buffalo District, were able to expand their knowledge and disaster response capabilities as they pertain to waste water by visiting and talking with experts about the inner workings of several waste water treatment plants in the Chicago area.

"It was a smell that only an engineer can appreciate." said Vriesen. "It was necessary to get the real world experience so that when we are called on after a disaster strikes, the IA team will be more effective in completing its mission."

Pioli and Vriesen are just two of a handful of people across the Corps that may arrive at disaster area to assess waste water issues and provide solutions on how to return the systems to an operational state. Dealing with waste water is not the cleanest, best smelling or most glorious job, but it is a necessary job to help accomplish the PRT's mission.

The members of the IA-PRT are a special group of professionals who are willing to put themselves in harm's way for the good of the Nation. Leaving the comfort of their home for a tent on disaster torn landscape shows their dedication to the mission, people, the Nation and the Corps of Engineers.

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