Taking a path that eerily resembled Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2012 storm named Isaac formed in the Caribbean in late August, rapidly grew to hurricane strength, then put greater New Orleans directly in its crosshairs. Isaac made landfall in southern Louisiana on Aug. 28 – almost seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina’s Aug. 29, 2005, assault.
Although Isaac was a much less destructive storm than Katrina (Isaac was Category One when it came ashore), President Barack Obama still urged residents to get out of the way, saying, “Now is not the time to tempt fate” and dismiss official warnings.
Yet just as they did when Katrina hit the Gulf coast seven years earlier, the Memphis District team rushed to help the residents of the region recover from this latest natural disaster.
“Our staff in the (Memphis District’s) Readiness and Contingency Operations (RCO) Office was closely monitoring Isaac,” Steve Barry RCO Chief said. “We alerted all our teams and they were ready to go as soon as we got the call.”
The first mission assignments came on Aug. 27 when Corps of Engineers headquarters alerted the Memphis District’s Emergency Power Planning and Response Team (PRT). Action Officer and Subject Matter Expert (SME) Steve Sansone headed up the team consisting of Jason Allmon, Dennis Bertrand, Randy Clark, Zach Cook, Celestine Evans, Jeff Farmer, Arthur Miller, Ray Mullins, Marie Normandie, Kevin Pigott and Jack Wilkerson. Team members Brenda Watkins and April Branch stayed on in Memphis to act as liaisons with the District headquarters staff.
The team traveled to Camp Beauregard and other Louisiana locations, ensuring contractor-provided emergency generators were deployed quickly and effectively where needed.
On Aug. 28, select members of the District’s Command Management Team (CMT), led by District Commander Col. Vernie Reichling, traveled to Baton Rouge, La. They made initial contacts with Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel there, then hunkered down for the storm to pass.
The New Orleans District allowed our advance team to use their Rear Emergency Operations Center at the Port Allen Lock, just across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge. Later, USACE Deployable Tactical Operations Center vehicles arrived in the area. They set up at FEMA’s Initial Operating Facility at Sherwood Forest on the east side of Baton Rouge and our team began operating from there.
This vanguard group included Steve Barry (Emergency Operations), Russ Davis (Operations), Maj. Jon Korneliussen, Jimmy Longino (Logistics), Terry Rupe (Real Estate) and Lauren Graves (Administrative Support).
The IOF group – or MVM Forward - directed the overall operation of the relief effort assigned to the Memphis District.
Next came a call for help with commodities (ice, water, meals). The greatest need was for Quality Assurance (QA) personnel and they soon began flowing into the Memphis District from other Districts in the region. Memphis District Biologist Chris Greene headed up the Receiving, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) activity ensuring everyone was properly checked out and prepared before heading into the storm area. Greene eventually joined the advance party in Baton Rouge himself.
Memphis District Emergency Management Specialist Kevin Woods took charge of the Memphis District Emergency Operations Center during Steve Barry’s deployment downrange. To help out, Emergency Management Specialist Teri Alberico from the St. Paul District filled in for him. A disaster-response veteran, Alberico also helped out in Memphis during last year’s flooding.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, Isaac did not generate the enormous amount of debris that required a record-setting Federal response. Still, SME Whit Barton from the Memphis District deployed to provide valuable advice and technical assistance in Livingston, St. John the Baptist, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.
On Sept. 5, FEMA released a mission assignment for Infrastructure Assessment to the Memphis District. With Daphlyn Koester in the lead, Ted Beasley and Jeff Farmer traveled to Louisiana to work with sewer and water board leaders in the worst hit areas.
Memphis District Deputy Commander Lt. Col. David Patton swapped places with Col. Reichling on Sept. 4 to allow the District Commander to prepare for upcoming Congressional visits to Washington, D.C.
Other staff members also responding to the relief effort included Memphis District Safety Chief Rod Kellow, Safety Specialist Ken Augustine, and Internal Review Chief Leonardo Ramos.
By Sept. 7, the Isaac mission began ramping down. The last District employees – including Zach Cook, Randy Clark, Lauren Graves, Ken Augustine and Steve Barry – headed home on Sept. 11.
Unlike Katrina, the Memphis District’s involvement in Isaac would be measured in days instead of months. As with any storm of hurricane proportions, the effects will be long lasting for those residents directly impacted. But thanks to the Hurricane Storm Damage and Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) the Corps has built to protect greater New Orleans, and the willingness of our many devoted District team members to respond after any storm, we can be secure in the knowledge that the people of that region are much safer now and in the future.