HOUSTON, TEXAS – Hurricane Harvey stormed along the Gulf Coast of Texas in late August with winds of more than 125 miles per hour as it dumped record rainfall amounts, resulting in large-scale flooding. As part of the federal government’s recovery mission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to provide engineering support. Infrastructure Assessment (IA) teams are a key element of this support.
The high winds combined with record-breaking rainfall didn’t discriminate between private and public property – both took a beating. Critical public infrastructure that communities rely on to meet basic needs, such as water and wastewater treatment plants, city government buildings, fire and police stations, schools, and hospitals, could require assistance after a storm in order to be fully functional.
USACE’s IA field teams played a major role in determining what public infrastructure was damaged and needed assistance after Harvey. The teams’ job was to summarize the damages to civil and structural infrastructure and regional water and wastewater systems hit by Harvey. FEMA will use their reports to evaluate and determine what public assistance each infrastructure type will receive to get back up and running.
Frank Appelfeller, senior regional engineer with the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, and his colleagues, Dylan Van Dyne and Zachary Jelenek, worked as Infrastructure Assessment Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on one IA team based out of FEMA’s Harris County Branch Office.
The IA team worked in 11 counties and “probably close to 500 locations,” Jelenek said. The three split up the work load with each member focusing on a different community in order to get “severely damaged infrastructure on FEMA’s radar,” said Jelenek. According to Van Dyne, Montgomery and Fort Bend were two of the bigger counties they worked in.
The team spent their days going to communities and conducting what Appelfeller termed “windshield surveys” of infrastructure and public works. They spoke with mayors, city council members, city managers, county emergency management personnel, and county judges – whoever had knowledge of the public works facilities in the community and could best describe the damages sustained – in order to conduct a general inventory of the community’s structural, water, and wastewater system repair needs.
Communities who have assessed damages may apply to FEMA for public assistance funds to make repairs. If requested by FEMA, the IA team may further assist by helping with the completion of project worksheets to support the grant application process. While the IA team is involved in helping FEMA to describe and assess damages, they will not be involved in the actual work to repair the facilities.
Appelfeller is a seasoned volunteer in this type of work. This is his third mission as a water/wastewater SME - the other times were during responses to the 2010 Nashville flood and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. He also served as a project manager during the Hurricane Katrina recovery.
His background makes him a good asset for the team. He spent 16 years in the private sector designing water and wastewater facilities before he joined USACE in 2002.
Jelenek said this was his first deployment and that he is “in-training,” learning much from Appelfeller and Van Dyne. Jelenek joined USACE right out of school as an intern and is an environmental engineer in the Sacramento District.
Like Jelenek, this is Van Dyne’s first time working as an Infrastructure Assessment SME. After he finished working on this assignment, Van Dyne moved to FEMA’s Branch II office in Huntsville, Texas, where he said he was “to serve as an IA Action Officer overseeing work done by two USACE IA teams in the field and reporting IA team deliverables to FEMA Branch II supervisors co-located in the same office.” Van Dyne joined USACE two years ago and is a biologist and project manager in Sacramento District’s Regulatory Division.
Appelfeller and Jelenek agree with Van Dyne that it is “rewarding to help a community in need,” and they are glad to be able to play a small part of the recovery after Harvey.
Those in USACE who are interested in volunteering as an IA civil/structural and water/wastewater subject matter expert can contact Andrea Ruminski at Andrea.K.Ruminski@usace.army.mil
for more information.