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    By the numbers: USACE installs blue roofs faster than previous disasters

    By the numbers: USACE installs blue roofs faster than previous disasters

    Photo By Christopher Rosario | Details of the Hurricane Ida response effort compared to other responses by the U.S....... read more read more



    Story by Dr. Michael Izard 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

    There’s a saying that there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes but for the past several years, there may be another certainty—tropical storms and hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center reports that in the Atlantic basin alone (which covers the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico), there was an average of 14 named storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes over the period from 1991 through 2020. When Hurricane Ida struck southeastern Louisiana on Aug. 29, the Atlantic hurricane season was only at its halfway point, as the season runs between June 1 and Nov. 30 each year.

    While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the primary federal organization that manages disasters within the Federal Response Framework, FEMA typically assigns several missions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to include temporary power, temporary roofing, debris management, infrastructure assessment and temporary housing. With the increased frequency and severity of storms, USACE has accepted mission assignments with some regularity. The expectation of yearly deployments has created opportunities for the organization to make process improvements each time, notably in their temporary roofing capabilities.

    “We know the urgency this type of mission has and as one of the major players in federal disaster response, it’s important to apply lessons learned, improve and prepare for the next disaster,” said Col. Zachary Miller, Commander, USACE Memphis District and Hurricane Ida recovery field office commander. “We’ve been looking at the numbers from four previous storms and are seeing some significant improvements in blue roof installations each year.”

    Operation Blue Roof provides homeowners in disaster areas a professionally installed fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting to cover their damaged roofs until permanent repairs are made. Operation Blue Roof protects property, reduces temporary housing costs, and allows residents to remain in their homes while recovering from a storm.

    “Getting on roofs as soon as possible after a storm is our goal,” said Miller. “So, if there is a better way to do something, we’re going to look into it.”

    A comparison between Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 and Hurricane Ida in 2021 shows USACE was able to install the first 1,000 roofs faster by 10 days for the Ida response. The increase in blue roof installations is more evident at the 30th day of blue roof installation. For Maria, USACE hit 5,139 on response day 30, but for Ida, they installed 19,979 of installations within the first month—3.9 times faster (see Hurricane Ida increasing disaster response speed comparison graphic).

    “Every storm is different, of course, and geography does make a difference, too,” said Josh Marx, USACE Temporary Roofing Program Manager. “Puerto Rico is off the mainland where getting supplies delivered was not as easy, and there were a lot of houses in mountainous terrain, which presented unique challenges.”

    Even considering the variables Marx notes, USACE has been seeing a consistent trend in speed of blue roof installations from Hurricane Maria to other mainland storms like hurricanes Irma, Michael, Laura, Delta and now Ida, which he said he believes is evidence of the organization’s commitment to process improvement.

    Each disaster, USACE personnel submit comments in “after action reports” or AARs, in which they provide feedback about what went well in the response effort and what areas would benefit from a closer review. With the large number of homeowners that request a blue roof, data management has consistently been an area needing particular attention. For Hurricane Ida, USACE used a database tracking system that allows for sophisticated data sharing and reporting capabilities. Though the field management system was used for hurricanes Delta and Laura in 2020, its full functionality was not available at that time as it was still under development.

    Nicole Cominoli, blue roof quality assurance supervisor for Hurricane Ida said the database is a huge improvement when comparing what we had for last year’s mission for hurricanes Laura and Delta. Cominoli is familiar with disaster response missions since her normal job is a natural disaster and program manager out of USACE, Omaha District, also managing temporary roofing as part of the district’s planning and response team.

    Cominoli noted the entire mission revolves around the database from start to finish which allows for significant efficiencies in how USACE manages the mission.

    “When homeowners want to sign up for assistance, they input information online that goes into the database,” she said. “When we want to send someone out to assess the roof, that’s done in the database. The contractors have access for the construction phase and we even track invoices and payments to the contractor through the database.”

    Miller was the commander for the hurricane response efforts during the past two years and attributes a great deal of this year’s successes to the database improvements, the well nested partnership with local and state government, and FEMA.

    “Our commitment to process improvement paid off,” he said. “Not only are we better able to handle the huge numbers of requests from disaster survivors, but we also have a strong platform to coordinate work with our contractors.”

    Miller noted that its sometimes difficult to fully articulate what our reported temporary roofing installation numbers represent. For example, for Hurricane Ida, there were more than 72,000 initial blue roof installation requests documented in the USACE database but only over 33,600 of those requests were considered “valid”. The program is available for primary residences or a permanently occupied rental property. Vacation rental properties are not eligible for the program. Roofs that are flat, made of clay, slate or asbestos tile, or that have more than 50 percent structural damage do not qualify. Apart from eligibility, many residents also canceled their request for a blue roof for a variety of reasons including either repairing the roof themselves, hiring a contractor or realizing their roof did not qualify. Deadlines are also different for each disaster, as state leaders may request extensions if needed. The deadline for a blue roof for Hurricane Ida applicants was extended twice, with the final date being Oct. 15.

    For the more recent storms, USACE has benefitted from utilizing aerial imagery taken immediately after the storm to remotely assess homeowner’s roofs. Quality assurance personnel used to have to go to each home and perform assessments in person, which was time consuming, costlier, and delayed getting work to the contractors. Now, more assessments can be done in less time, which directly translates to increased installation speeds.

    “We have staff who have volunteered for more than 10 disasters and while we are improving processes, USACE personnel are getting better at what they do, too,” said Miller. “They are adapting to new technologies and their experience and expertise is a force multiplier.”

    Miller says from the very beginning the engagements and communication between our team, the state, local parishes and FEMA were key to quickly scaling up the blue roof install mission.

    “Within the first few days of this mission the Governor (Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards) invited me to visit all 25 affected parishes with him and we were able to make the public and local leaders aware of the blue roof program and other resources available,” said Miller. “We are one piece of this whole of government response and we couldn’t deliver for the public without FEMA entrusting us to manage this program.”

    At the peak of blue roof installations for Hurricane Ida, contractors were installing 1,500 roofs daily. That is a testament to the improvements contractors are also making in their processes, said Miller.

    “Our contractors are working hard to demonstrate they are the best in their field, just like we are,” said Miller. “Taking on federal projects is a competitive process, so they know they need to come to the table with a strong track record and have the same goals we do—helping disaster survivors.”

    “With storms consistently on USACE’s radar, a commitment to process improvement is built into the organization’s post-storm AARs. Just like all of the past hurricanes, there are lessons to be learned from this event. Our goal next time is to be even faster.” said Miller.



    Date Taken: 11.02.2021
    Date Posted: 11.04.2021 12:03
    Story ID: 408547
    Location: NEW ORLEANS, LA, US 

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