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Posted 1/28/2018

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By Clayton Church


The iconic theme song from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters asks the question, "Who you gonna call?" and although the team from the movie may prove best for that fictional situation, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a call last year for help, it was to another federal partner -- the Bureau of Reclamation. The call for people to help was in response to devastating wildfires, which caused more than 40 deaths and destroyed over 8,000 homes, across four counties in Northern California in October 2017. The wildfires created the largest debris removal operation in California history since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which is being conducted by USACE under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and in partnership with the state of California.

Under the National Response Framework, USACE is the is the primary agency for providing technical assistance for Emergency Support Function 3, Public Works and Engineering, when given mission assignments from FEMA. This unified and coordinated structure allows for scalable response when requested by states or tribal nations following a man-made or natural disaster. But a busy 2017 hurricane season impacting numerous states and territories has overwhelmed the ability of USACE to conduct multiple response efforts, resulting in that call for help to Reclamation for additional quality assurance evaluators. 

According to Julie Bentley, from the USACE Fort Worth District and working in the Northern California Recovery Field Office as an ENGLink Strike Team member, almost 40 BOR people are on the ground and 100 will work with USACE during the debris operations. The QAs will help with debris removal from almost 5,000 separate parcels in four northern California counties. 

Richard Aguirre, a quality assurance representative with the USACE Sacramento District, is a QA supervisor working from the Napa Emergency Field Office said, "The BOR folks are absolutely outstanding, they saw the need and got more volunteers to help the mission--absolutely phenomenal." 

Aguirre also explained that the QAs are the eyes and ears of USACE on the ground ensuring a safe operation during debris removal. Ensuring proper wear by the contractor of personal protective equipment and adherence to the removal plan requirements are also some of the duties the QAs perform. The current group of BOR QAs came in as a team of 14 and many want to extend, according to Aguirre. 

One BOR team member is Megan McKay from the Pacific Northwest Region's Snake River Office, in Boise, Idaho, who explained her role with data management. "We coordinate data as it comes in from the field to ensure reporting is done; look ahead so teams are ready to go the next day," McKay said. The 10-year BOR veteran added that the days have really been busy making they seem to blend together but has definitely been a rewarding learning experience. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation was established in 1902 and is best known for dams, power plants, and canals it constructed in 17 western states. Reclamation has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and Grand Coulee on the Columbia River. Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the country and is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States. With many USACE and BOR missions being similar in operation and scope, is allows people from both agencies the skill sets and knowledge to mold seamlessly into disaster response operations. 

Regardless of the agency of origin, the QAs accomplish a function that ensures mission success. Northern California Wildfire debris removal operations are scheduled to be complete in March.

bureau of reclamation Corps of Engineers debris removal emergency response Northern California wildfires partnership U.S. Army