Major storms like the atmospheric river that dumped record amounts of precipitation across California in late October, and drawn-out storms that cause rivers to rise to flood levels, are of utmost concern for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After all, a huge part of the USACE mission statement – Deliver vital engineering solutions, in collaboration with our partners, to secure our Nation, energize our economy, and reduce disaster risk – is about keeping the public safe.
While managing levees and ensuring they are in good condition is a year-round process, storms and heavy rain events have a higher capacity to put them at jeopardy. And there’s a well-known saying among those in flood response organizations: An emergency is not the time to be passing out business cards.
The truth of that axiom is the reason members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District recently joined with colleagues from our partner organizations, California Department of Water Resources, National Weather Service, and Federal Emergency Management Agency to participate in a two-day flood fight training event at the District’s Bryte Yard facility in Sacramento.
Patricia Fontanet Rodriguez, natural disaster planner for the Sacramento District Emergency Operations Center and organizer of the training said this type of event provides a great opportunity to ponder emergency scenarios and responses before there is an actual emergency.
“Flood fight training is a critical portion of the work we do in the Sacramento District,” said Fontanet Rodriguez. “Flooding is a major hazard across our area of responsibility, so we need to ensure our flood fight team is ready to provide support ahead of the next flood emergency.”
Fontanet Rodriguez also emphasized the importance of partnerships when it comes to flood fighting, noting that the Sacramento District team is made up of USACE engineers, planners, contracting specialists, real estate specialists, regulators, and others. In addition, we work hand-in-hand with DWR (or State-level partners if outside California) during activation.
“By training with our partner agencies, our flood fight team is able to gain experience and strengthen relationships in a non-emergency environment,” said Fontanet Rodriguez.
During the field training portion of the event, approximately 30 USACE and DWR colleagues learned about a wide range of emergency support equipment available to them, such as the District’s Unmanned Aerial System, communications equipment, operation of a sandbagging machine, and the District’s DTOS – Deployable Tactical Operations System – an RV on steroids, teched-out and capable of operating as a stand-alone operations center at the site of an emergency event.
Participants even received training on how to respond to members of the media – should they happen to show up with their cameras ready to roll during an emergency response.
A major focus of the field training, however, was centered on conducting mock levee inspections geared toward exploring how field teams would respond during a potential flooding event.
Learning how to respond as a team in a training, no-fault environment is ideal. We don’t want our flood fighters getting their initial experience on a dark, rainy night, with rising waters reaching dangerous levels, said Fontanet Rodriguez.
“It’s really all about effective partnerships and teamwork. The goal of the exercise was for participants to make important connections,” said Fontanet Rodriguez. “Who do we go to for information? Who has the resources we need? What is our role and what can we offer our partners? It is critical we have an answer to these questions -- well before an emergency.”