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Posted 9/27/2017

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Mobile District water expert helps Florida residents recover after Hurricane Irma

By John Barker, Mobile District, public affairs specialist

In the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation, few things are more important to affected Florida residents than drinking water and wastewater. With this in mind, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, prepositioned water expert Mark Crawford, in Tallahassee, Fla., even before the storm hit.

After meeting with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection [FDEP] and the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], Crawford developed a strategy to categorize and prioritize water systems of unknown status.

“With more than 90 percent of the state's treatment facilities affected by Hurricane Irma, a call center was developed by the FDEP to determine the operational status of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and distribution systems across the state,” said Crawford, who deployed Sept. 7 with Dennis Mekkers, a district engineer.

Soon after Irma hit, the Corps’ Deployable Tactical Operation System, or DTOS, was put into action, directly outside of the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 18. After relocating to the FDEP center, Crawford helped manage a team who set up a call center between the Corps and partner agencies.

“We developed forms and procedures for tracking, collecting and reporting facility status so emergency personnel could easily record the information,” said Crawford, who has worked for the Corps and the Mobile District for five years.

“Since development of the call centers, the status of more than 98 percent of the community water systems and 88 percent of the wastewater systems has been determined and categorized,” he said. “The biggest unknowns are found in non-communal water systems and smaller wastewater systems.”

On Sept. 20, Crawford began sending teams into the field to assist partner agencies with determining operational status of systems that are still unknown. The team will also be tasked to physically assess the systems that are still inoperable.

“Mark is an up-and-coming engineer who volunteered immediately upon request,” said Patrick O’Connor, chief, Water and Wastewater Technical Center of Expertise and Civil Site section. “He serves as the eyes and ears for the Corps infrastructure team. He has been successfully coordinating other agencies in a collective mission to assess water and wastewater system damages. He provides onsite input into necessary emergency assessments and potential course of actions.”

Crawford is currently moving to the Joint Field Office, in Orlando, where he will manage the field teams and coordinate information being relayed to FDEP and FEMA.

“I am deeply humbled by the strength and resilience of the people in Florida as they work towards the path of recovery after this event,” said Crawford. “Their generosity towards one another has been a blessing to witness. I am extremely proud of the Corps team, Mobile and the other districts represented, as they have worked together with local agencies, departments, and individuals to meet (their) needs and assist the locals on their path to recovery. The exceptional talents and skill-sets found throughout the Corps is unparalleled. It has also been my pleasure to have worked closely with other federal and state agencies. The synergy between all parties promoted an environment conducive for a successful mission.”

In addition to the Corps, FDEP and FEMA, these are the other organizations involved Department of Homeland Security, Florida Rural Water Association, Florida's Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network and the local county health department.