News Story Manager

Tool streamlines Corps’ power mission response during disasters

Los Angeles District
Published Aug. 15, 2013
Staff Sgt. Henry Howell and Sgt. Nathaniel Boecker of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 249th Engineer Battalion, inspect generators at the Ocean Bay Public Housing complex. The 249th installed over 200 generators, providing 54 MW of emergency temporary power to critical infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeastern United States in October 2012.

Staff Sgt. Henry Howell and Sgt. Nathaniel Boecker of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 249th Engineer Battalion, inspect generators at the Ocean Bay Public Housing complex. The 249th installed over 200 generators, providing 54 MW of emergency temporary power to critical infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeastern United States in October 2012.

Members of Task Force Power stage and prepare generators in central New Jersey for deployment in their Emergency Temporary Power mission following Hurricane Sandy.

Members of Task Force Power stage and prepare generators in central New Jersey for deployment in their Emergency Temporary Power mission following Hurricane Sandy.

LOS ANGELES—In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the northeastern United States, causing billions of dollars in damage to the area.

Task Force Power, the Corps’ rapid response team charged with providing emergency power to critical infrastructure during a disaster, installed 202 generators provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ultimately providing 54 MW of power and directly supporting 25,000 people. 

But the support rendered was not without its challenges.  Every facility supported had specialized power needs and specific connection requirements that required hours and sometimes days to accommodate.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all situation where we rolled up with 75 generators in the back of a van and started dropping the off and hooking them up,” said Jim Balocki, chief of the Interagency and International Services division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  “Every one of the generators had to be specially matched and connected to safely provide temporary power.  Because it’s custom made, it takes a bit longer than what people expect and want, but it’s for the safety of the people living and working in the facility.”

These delays could have been avoided and Los Angeles-area facilities could learn from these events to better prepare themselves in the event a natural disaster hits Southern California, said Anne Hutton, chief of the Los Angeles District’s emergency management office. 

The Corps has a system in place for critical facilities like emergency operations centers, hospitals, police and fire departments, and others to register and indicate their specialized power requirements should the need ever arise.  It’s called the Emergency Power Facility Assessment Tool.

The EPFAT is a database that is secure and stores information on the specific needs of each facility.  It also allows responders to prioritize the needs of each facility and gives the 249th Engineer Battalion, also known as “Prime Power,” an idea of how many generators they need to arrange for and transport to the area.  Those agencies who do not register in EPFAT run the risk of waiting additional hours or even days for emergency power should the need arise.

“Delays in providing resources can be avoided if we know the requirements of a facility prior to a disaster,” Hutton said.  “Also, the cache may not have a generator that meets the needs of all facility types.  For example, a port may need a specialized generator that is not in FEMA’s cache.  If the 249th knows this ahead of time, they can identify where they might get these specialized assets.  If this doesn’t happen, we have to send a team out to assess the needs like figuring out how and where to connect it and how much power is needed.  If we have the information ahead of time, we already know where it’s going to go, where the connections are, and what level of power they need.”

Hutton oversees the district’s emergency management office, which plans for and responds to disasters in the district’s area of operations on behalf of the Corps.  She’s also in charge of making sure facilities like hospitals and other emergency response organizations are aware of the myriad of services the Corps is poised to support with in the event of an emergency.

The district covers the southern third of California, as well as Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Utah, which could account for thousands of critical facilities that would benefit from enrolling in EPFAT.  To date, only a fraction of those agencies have registered, and Hutton said it may be because they don’t anticipate they will need the support or because they already have emergency power plans in place.  But because enrollment in EPFAT is free, it behooves the organizations to register anyway.

 “Even if they have an emergency generator, it may not function at the time of the event even if it has been maintained,” Hutton said.  Enrollment in EPFAT is free, and the Corps hopes all agencies or facilities that may require emergency power will take the time to register. 

Emergency responders and representatives of critical facilities can register at http://epfat.swf.usace.army.mil/.