A Category 4 hurricane rapidly surges through the Chesapeake Bay, wreaking havoc along the National Capital Region. The storm's devastating pathway leaves the region in a flood state with severely impacted infrastructure, communications, and power systems.
During a recent emergency exercise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District; 249th Engineer Battalion Charlie Company Prime Power; and emergency management partners helped enable community restoration efforts in the region by successfully assessing temporary emergency power needs for critical facilities. This opportunity prepared the emergency response agencies to resolve post-storm power outages during their most challenging time – hurricane season.
"The emergency management community plans situational responses at local, state, and federal levels and re-establishes post-disaster community lifelines," said Dorie Murphy, USACE, Baltimore District, chief of Emergency Management. "Exercise Empire Rising helped validate our plans, identify gaps in execution, and build important relationships that will allow us to work together more seamlessly during an actual disaster response."
"The exercise assessments allowed participants to expedite identifying post-disaster generator requirements for powerless facilities," Murphy added. "Each of these critical pieces of infrastructure is vital to restoring emergency lifelines for community restoration."
Much like the July weather when the exercise took place, the heat was on as teams scrambled to restore crucial needs in the region. Stakes were high as USACE, Baltimore District's Emergency Operations Center coordinated assessments, validated plans, and supported multiple mission assignments on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The 249th Engineer Battalion, a versatile power generation battalion assigned to the USACE that provides commercial-level power to military units and federal relief organizations during full-spectrum operations, helped supplement the Baltimore District team by completing nearly 85 assessments in three days. During that span, battalion's Charlie Company Prime Power "Spartans" maintained communications with exercise players, the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, multiple military Installations and FEMA, while also refining their expertise.
"Prime Power (specialists) train to react immediately for disasters," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Bradford, 249th Engineer Battalion Charlie Company Prime Power production specialist. "Our Team deploys for a disaster, and, within hours, can be on site, providing vital power to the population and reducing damage, while giving a sense of normalcy back to affected citizens."
"(Empire Rising) helped validate our mission capabilities," Bradford added. "We used this opportunity to ensure we are providing effective and valuable support. Working alongside the USACE, Baltimore District helped us identify critical buildings and sites, enabling our real-world mission proficiencies."
According to Bradford, this opportunity also provided a clear advantage by helping the 249th "Spartans" re-establish they can prepare before emergency orders and are more than capable of providing safe, accurate solutions. Furthermore, he states the Army soldiers' work ethic propelled them to persevere during the 72-hour, high-ops tempo across the NCR under unique circumstances.
"Operating an Army power plant is much different than providing commercial power to a building in an emergency," said Bradford. "Our daily operations include running and maintaining a power plant and distribution. In a disaster, we plan to place 30 to 60 generators of varying sizes across an entire region or state. Our planning is scaled much larger while our power focus goes from a large area to a single building."
"Because of the unique nature of the disaster relief mission, it is not something we can replicate easily, he continued. "This challenge makes the USACE relationship much more important. We rely on the Power Mission Exercises to test our skills thoroughly."
For Bradford, enduring the obstacles of balance loads, identifying primary voltages, and calculating for facilities starting and stopping huge power loads continuously was challenging but worthwhile.
"These challenges provided a capstone event for our team," said Bradford. "We faced every challenge we might encounter. The most rewarding part of the exercise is knowing the assessments were stored and used for disaster planning and relief. So often, when training, you tear down what you build, or only the after-action review is saved. This instance was different; we were working with coordinators to create a plan so that eventually, they may not need our services in a disaster."
Although storm season recently presented the NCR challenges from the landfall impacts of Hurricane Ida, Exercise Empire Rising 2021's collective efforts and actions provided the vital relationships and expertise needed to safeguard the community effectively.