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USACE PDT of the Year for Honor – Joint Task Force - Unwatering

Published Jan. 17, 2014
Hoses and other necessary equipment were lugged up and down escalators to aide in the unwatering mission.

Hoses and other necessary equipment were lugged up and down escalators to aide in the unwatering mission.

After a whirlwind emergency response effort following Hurricane Sandy, the Joint Task Force - Unwatering Project Delivery Team was chosen as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) 2013 Project Delivery Team of the Year for Honor. 

USACE was assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide technical and unwatering assistance to 14 locations in the New York City metro area in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. These locations included nine subway tubes, two AMTRAK tunnels and three of the city’s primary roadways, including the longest coastal tunnel in North America that had been flooded. HQUSACE quickly turned to the Rock Island District, who in conjunction with the New York District rapidly established a Joint Task Force Unwatering (JTF-U) Project Delivery Team (PDT).

This was the first time that water had inundated critical New York City underground transportation infrastructure to this extent; and the city did not have emergency plans or adequate resources to provide a timely response.  

“A lot of eyes were on us. We were described in numerous media accounts as the Corps of Engineers’ Unwatering SWAT Team,” said Roger Less, Chief of Design Branch for the Rock Island District who helped lead the effort.

The task force worked to quickly identify resources including USACE staff from both within and outside MVD,  leveraging existing relationships with the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving and establishing a new relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team.

“These relationships proved to be a key to the success of the mission,” said Less. “This was truly a team effort, one that came together on-the-fly but was tremendously successful.”

Together the team persevered and successfully removed nearly 500 million gallons of seawater from the network of underground tunnels in timeframes that were significantly less than anticipated. 

The PDT’s efforts supported two of the Corps’ Campaign Plan Goals – Goal 1: Ready for All Contingencies – Deliver USACE support to combat, stability, and disaster operations through forward deployed and reach back capabilities; and Goal 2: Recruit and Retain Strong Teams – Build and cultivate a competent, disciplined, and resilient team equipped to deliver high quality solutions.

“Applying past Rock Island unwatering experience with local knowledge of the tunnels, we came up with some innovative engineering solutions to get New York’s mass transit system of tunnels and underpasses back to a non-flooded condition where the city could get them back up and running as quickly as possible,” said Less. “We had the right people on the team to provide unwatering support in those emergency conditions.”

Each year USACE recognizes three PDT’s for project delivery accomplishments in support of the Corps missions as PDT of the Year for Excellence, Honor and Merit. The nominations must demonstrate synergy, integrated and coordinated management, teamwork, partnering, effective balancing of competing demands, applications of innovative technology and tools and sharing of lessons learned.