Innovating and improving processes are what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do, especially when it comes to hurricane recovery operations.
So when it came time to respond to a Hurricane like Laura, the Corps came ready to deliver temporary roofing with an upgraded Blue Roof Program.
The Blue Roof Program is a Federal Emergency Management Agency program managed by USACE. The program provides homeowners in disaster areas with fiber-reinforced sheeting to cover damaged roofs until permanent repairs can be made. To receive a blue roof, homeowners must complete a Right of Entry, or ROE form, either online, via a Call Center, or in-person at an ROE Collection Site.
"We’ve come a long way with how people can sign up," Blue Roof Program Subject Matter Expert Mike Welch said. "People used to always have to come in and apply by signing up in person at a little stand in the community. Now you can sign up on the Internet using your cell phone, going to an in-person sign-up station, or by calling into the call center where they take down all your information."
The Blue Roof Planning and Response Teams also used to spend a lot more time opening ROE sign-up sites than they did actually assessing damaged roofs.
"Historically, we would have to get our teams to go and stand up a vast amount of physical right of entry collection centers instead of focusing on doing assessments," Temporary Roofing Program Manager Josh Marx said. "Now the focus has shifted from setting up ROE collection sites up to actually doing what's necessary for the mission to go forward, which is to do the assessments and create the work orders for the contractors."
So, what led to an improvement? How did this critical program evolve over the years and become what it is today?
"Every district had their own way of responding to natural disasters, so what we did was take best practices from each one and create Standard Operating Procedures for all districts to use when responding, across the board," Welch said.
"Additionally, USACE Common Operating Picture created the Field Management System 2.0," Marx said. "And then the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center helps maintain our devices and supports from a technical standpoint. This system is all electronic and allows us to manage homeowner information mostly online versus all on paper like what we normally would have done."
Assessments were always conducted in-person in the past. Now, the Blue Roof assessors have satellite and flyover imagery at their fingertips to assist with damage assessments.
"In most cases, we've had aerial imagery of the home before and after the storm," Marx said. "The quality assurance inspectors can assess the damage from a desktop, and they can immediately create work orders and push them to the contractors."
Using satellite and fixed-wing imagery also allows people anywhere in the world to conduct assessments.
"What we’ve seen this year is we're now able to have people back in Omaha and here in Baton Rouge do remote assessments," Marx said. "I think we've found that around 40 percent of the roofing reports allowed us just to look at the photos, assess damages, and then write up a work order without ever sending anybody out to the field or to the property."
And suppose for some reason the aerial imagery doesn't work out as planned. In that case, the process is still simpler than in years past because of information stored in the new database.
"There might have been cloud cover that didn't show the damages or the quality of the photograph wasn't good enough for us to assess… or there were questions that needed to be answered," Marx added. "But even so, no longer are we trying to measure the roof because the roof is already measured – we’re just trying to assess the damages and draw up a work order according to what the damages are when we go out and visually inspect it."
Furthermore, information on the homeowner is no longer stored in a file cabinet somewhere. No longer does an assessor have to search for something as simple but necessary as a phone number or address.
"This helps us go out and make sure we are at the right house, at the right tasker, and have the proper damage assessment. We just blend both tools and use them to the best of our advantage,” Welch added.
While any new program is bound to have its hiccups here and there, this system still puts the team at an output level that's faster than in years past.
As one assessor put it, the program is for lack of a better term, great.
"I've been doing this (volunteering) my entire life," Welch said. "I’ve served in the Navy, I volunteer as a fireman, I've been to Afghanistan, and so on. But, what's important about this is we have people from 20 districts downrange in support of this mission. We also have people from five districts doing reach back support in their home districts. And what it is, is… it's Americans rebuilding America."
Americans are indeed rebuilding America, and through this program, they are doing it faster and better than ever before.