Army Corps in Baltimore on alert preparing for potential Hurricane Isaias impacts

Published Aug. 1, 2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is actively preparing for potential impacts from Hurricane Isaias, which could reach the mid-Atlantic region in the coming days. The District’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated at 2 Hopkins Plaza in downtown Baltimore and virtually to coordinate all emergency response activities.

This includes preparing for potential flooding and emergency support to the Susquehanna and Potomac watersheds in anticipation of heavy rains and the effects of Hurricane Isaias. With coastal flood risk management works in Ocean City, Maryland, along with 16 reservoirs and 150 miles of levees throughout Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia, Army Corps officials are taking measures to reduce the risk of flooding to communities throughout the region.  

Additionally, designated personnel have been assigned to state emergency operations centers in the region to coordinate Army Corps support to local response activities as appropriate both through existing legal authorities and through any FEMA mission assignments, should they be initiated.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District and its personnel stand ready to help communities in our region reduce risks from Hurricane Isaias and to rapidly support emergency response efforts locally or across the country in support of state and federal response activities,” said Baltimore District Commander Col. John T. Litz. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is always prepared to support local and federal emergency response efforts, and especially stands ready to again serve as FEMA’s engineer should the need arise.”

Existing Flood and Coastal Storm Risk Management Projects

Dams/Reservoirs: For the Army Corps-regulated 16 multi-purpose reservoirs, water management experts are monitoring gages, water levels, and reservoir conditions. The District will make decisions on gate operations at the dams using data from river gages and real-time reports from personnel on the ground. District dam operators are on site inspecting and monitoring the performance of the dams, and will take the necessary actions to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities. If any dam operations need to modified beyond typical flow changes, the public will receive advance warning through their local Emergency Management channels.

View reservoir data here: 

Levee Systems: Baltimore District currently has 150 miles of federally-constructed levees in the Corps Levee Safety Program throughout Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Engineers inspect the levees bi-annually to provide information to the local sponsors who operate and maintain the levees to ensure they will perform as designed during a storm event.

View information on Baltimore District’s Levee Safety Program here:  

The Atlantic Coast of Maryland Shoreline Protection Project (Ocean City): The Atlantic Coast of Maryland Shoreline Protection Project reduces coastal storm risk in Ocean City, Maryland. Baltimore District personnel are actively coordinating with local project partners in the state of Maryland; Worcester County; and the Town of Ocean City regarding preparations for Hurricane Isaias. The project consists of the wide, elevated beach berm, the protective sea wall built into the boardwalk and the vegetated dune system that continues north from the boardwalk to the state line. These elements work together to reduce impacts to the community from coastal storms and associated storm surge and wave action. Local authorities would make any decisions regarding the closure of seawall gates, which are built into the steps of the boardwalk.

Potomac Park Levee 17th Street Closure, District of Columbia: District personnel remain in contact with the National Park Service (NPS) who is responsible for installing the 17th Street post and panel closure structure that is part of the Potomac Park Levee System in the District of Columbia. This closure structure and levee system, built and regulated by the Army Corps and operated and maintained by NPS, reduces risk to human safety and critical infrastructure downtown to include the Federal Triangle from flooding of the Potomac River, including storm surge. In accordance with the Operations and Maintenance Manual, the National Park Service would make the decision to begin installing the closure structure when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the water stage to rise above a certain height along one of the gages. It can be installed in about four hours. 

Marine Debris Units and Support to Navigation: Baltimore District’s debris vessels that regularly patrol Baltimore Harbor and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers in Washington, D.C. for large drift and debris that could be hazardous to navigation are prepared for increases in large debris from Hurricane Isaias. Baltimore District’s hydrographic survey vessels are also prepared to support the Port of Baltimore should the storm’s impacts necessitate obstruction surveys of federal channels after the storm.

Emergency Response Support to Local and Federal Partners, Including Support to FEMA

Emergency Operations Center: Baltimore District has activated its Emergency Operations Center at 2 Hopkins Plaza in downtown Baltimore and virtually. Designated personnel are assigned to state emergency operations centers in the region and work closely with state and federal agencies to coordinate for appropriate emergency service Support may include technical assistance for critical public infrastructure, that could include temporary emergency power, debris removal and route clearance, and activities to protect life and property form flooding.. Requests for assistance should be made through local Emergency Management agencies.

Deployable Tactical Operations System: The District has placed its rapid response Deployable Tactical Operations System vehicles and crew on alert/standby to provide mobile command and control centers and communications capabilities wherever needed. The vehicles are stored and maintained at Indian Rock Dam in York, Pennsylvania and are designed to deploy within 18 hours and serve as command vehicles or offices-on-wheels for first responders, government officials and Emergency Planning and Response teams. Vehicles include Emergency Command and Control Vehicles and Mobile Communications Vehicle. Previous recent deployments for vehicles and their crews include Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and to the Florida panhandle after Hurricane Michael in 2018. 

Debris Management Planning and Response Team: The volunteer personnel on Baltimore District’s Debris Planning and Response Team are on alert and the team stands ready to deploy if activated. When damage and debris are so extensive that local and state capabilities are exceeded, FEMA can assign the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a mission to provide debris management assistance. Baltimore District’s Debris Planning and Response Team is one of seven specially trained Army Corps debris teams across the country. Support can range from technical support and advice to local authorities who may not be familiar with removal and disposal processes for large amounts of storm or other debris, or it can involve physically carrying out various debris removal activities. Most recently, Baltimore District’s Debris Management PRT deployed to support debris removal efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and to the Florida panhandle after Hurricane Michael in 2018.

National Hurricane Program Office: Baltimore District is home to the National Hurricane Program Office, which centrally manages all Army Corps technical support as part of FEMA’s National Hurricane Program. Within this program, the Army Corps and FEMA work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct hurricane evacuation studies with the ultimate goal of helping locals understand their evacuation timelines. HURREVAC is a storm tracking and decision support computer software tool for government emergency managers that is maintained and operated by the Baltimore District National Hurricane Program Office. HURREVAC is updated continuously and provides government officials with the location of Isaias and possible track. The tool couples this information with results of hurricane evacuation studies to aid local, state and federal decision makers in making key public safety decisions. 

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Chris Gardner

Release no. 20-019