US Army Corps of Engineers
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USACE Planning and Response Teams: Volunteering when disaster strikes

Published July 9, 2021
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning and Response Team members respond to the Hurricane Laura aftermath in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a major Army command with a broad set of missions and capabilities. One of its missions is to provide assistance when natural disasters or other emergencies occur.

Emergency preparedness and response is primarily a state and local responsibility. However, in instances when the nature of the disaster exceeds the capabilities of state and local interests, the Corps of Engineers may provide help to save human life, prevent immediate human suffering, and/or mitigate property damage.

The Memphis District actively responds to emergencies throughout the country, assisting in the form of the Blue Roof Program, debris removal, temporary housing and infrastructure support, and temporary emergency power.

This team of USACE pre-trained volunteers is known as the Planning and Response Team (PRT).

“Active team members can be called upon any time a Mission Assignment is activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),” PRT Coordinator Sandy Hibbard said. “Our busiest time is during hurricane season, which happens between June 1 to Nov. 30. Peak months are August through September.”

There are six key positions available within the team, including Action Officer, Contract Specialist, Mission Specialist, Mission Liaison, Logistics Specialist, and Quality Assurance. 

“Experience and skillsets are reviewed when assigning people to a position,” Hibbard explained. “There are always opportunities to learn other positions, too. Our goal is to have backups to each position to allow for flexibility as well as to always remain ready to respond to the needs of our nation.”

Only USACE employees may volunteer to serve on this team. It is recommended to discuss this opportunity with your family before attempting to onboard.

“We encourage people to consult with their family first to make sure they are on-board with 30 to 45-day deployments,” Hibbard said. “After that consult, a conversation with the person’s supervisor should take place to discuss the desire to become part of the Power Team.”

Hibbard said that once the supervisor and employee agree, an approved Statement of Understanding (SOU) will need to be signed by the member, the immediate supervisor, division chief, and the district commander. 

“This SOU stays active for three years,” Hibbard added. “It is essential to establish and maintain a good communication avenue with leadership about your volunteer status to ensure current duties are not affected if called to a mission. While the employee is awaiting the signatures on the SOU, the employee should start taking the required courses and update their personal profile and medical screening in ENGLink.”

There are many reasons to want to assist others during times of crisis. Still, volunteering for this specific team can come with its own set of unique circumstances.

“An emergency mission can be very stressful, as it’s physically challenging, fast-paced, and you’ll be working long hours,” Hibbard said. “However, being part of the mission is rewarding in that it brings hope or a small glimmer of “light” for all affected residents.”

“Although you are not face to face with the affected people, you get to smile when you see the news stating generators have been placed and power temporarily restored to the affected areas,” Hibbard added.  

Preparing for a deployment can be a daunting task. Volunteers are normally given very little notice, so packing a bag in advance is highly recommended.

“The most important part of preparing for a deployment is being mentally prepared,” Hibbard said. “You have to be prepared to keep an open mind and a positive view, regardless of the current situation.  Know that you will not be alone; you will have a team that will be there to ride the storm with you, as well as an amazing Readiness and Contingency Operations (RCO) team providing additional support.” 

If interested in joining or for more information, contact the RCO/Emergency Operations group. Sandy Hibbard and Steve Sansone are the district’s PRT Coordinators. They are ready and willing to answer any questions you might have.