FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Defense Logistics Agency Energy Americas and Task Force Americas rapidly responded to not one, but three major hurricanes that struck within a 30-day time span.
Deploying with only 13 to 18 people, TFA planned, coordinated and executed more than 800 Federal Emergency Management Agency priority fuel missions providing nearly two million gallons of fuel to support response and recovery efforts in the wake of three consecutive storms.
Each major hurricane made landfall within 10 to 15 days of one another, challenging response efforts in unique and substantial ways. Harvey brought massive flooding, Irma deadly storm surges and Maria catastrophic high winds.
While DLA Energy employees were in place across the nation to support response efforts, TFA was on the ground in the impacted areas. As response efforts shifted from Texas to Florida and then to Puerto Rico, so did the fuel, supplies and personnel.
Aug. 25: Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hits Texas with 130-mph winds
In preparation for hurricane relief efforts, TFA Commander Army Lt. Col. Josielyn Carrasquillo and her team deployed to Fort Hood, Texas, on Aug. 24. Using mobile command vehicle capability, they established a command and control post to set conditions for the arrival of FEMA contingency fuels contractor, Foster Fuels.
“Task Force Americas communication systems were immediately up and running and in contact with all critical players,” Carrasquillo said. “In just two days, we staged 165 fuel trucks with diesel and gasoline at Hood Army Airfield, which was used as a FEMA fuel staging area in support of disaster relief efforts.”
Harvey devastated Houston, leaving a wake that the whole nation would feel.
“From an energy perspective, Hurricane Harvey was very challenging because it struck at the heart of the petroleum production capacity of the United States,” said DLA Energy Commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Martin Chapin. “Nonetheless, it was a big challenge for our nation and Energy was able to provide sources of supply.”
DLA Energy Americas Commander Army Col. Craig Simonsgaard explained how the DLA Energy Americas East team distributed critical fuel to the right place, at the right time, despite challenging conditions.
“Americas East sent their deputy director, Tracy Keenan, to lead their Emergency Relocation Group to Fort Hood. Nine people handled all the short notice – really, no-notice – fuel missions that DLA was expected to perform under difficult circumstances,” he said. “Our normal jet fuel provider in Houston was offline so in less than 24 hours the ERG coordinated commercial trucks to pick up jet fuel at Dyess Air Force Base, move it to the outskirts of Houston, link those trucks up with local law enforcement and get the fuel to Ellington Field in the heart of a devastated Houston.”
Ellington Field was the main hub for active U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue operations at the time – a high priority post-hurricane mission.
In support of Hurricane Harvey, Carrasquillo said her team managed a fuel inventory of more than 600,000 gallons and supported 66 missions and six forward staging areas. DLA Energy delivered 77,000 gallons of fuel to Department of Homeland Security agencies including the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Sept. 10: Category 4 Hurricane Irma hits Florida with 185-mph winds
As the next major hurricane, Irma, approached the coastline, FEMA began to redirect fuel, personnel and generators toward Florida. On Sept. 6, TFA deployed straight from Fort Hood to Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to facilitate arrival of contracted fuel and the staging of approximately 140 fuel trucks in preparation for post-storm response efforts.
“Of course, our missions in support of Hurricane Harvey recovery weren’t completely done when we realized Hurricane Irma was going to be another major event,” Chapin said. “Because of Florida’s geographic layout, Hurricane Irma posed a bigger problem for DLA Energy … we needed to move fuel through the Florida peninsula using barges and ports that weren’t available to us ... it wasn’t a supply problem, but a distribution problem.”
To move the fuel where it was needed most, TFA relocated to Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Starke, Florida, bringing 215 fuel trucks and other support to the response area.
“Our team closed down operations at Warner Robins and became 100 percent operational at Camp Blanding in less than 48 hours without degrading fuel operations inside the joint operations area,” Carrasquillo said.
Twelve states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands declared emergencies due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In support of Hurricane Irma, Carrasquillo said TFA supported 57 missions across impacted areas including the U.S. southernmost point, Key West, and 22 forward and critical power plant staging areas. The team facilitated the delivery for FEMA mission assignment requests totaling approximately 767,000 gallons of fuel.
The team’s impressive work had a direct impact on all of the relief efforts, Chapin said.
“Every time a utility trucks goes out and power is back on for citizens, it’s because we provided them fuel and everyone who is supporting this effort should be proud,” he said.
Sept. 20: Category 4 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and the Caribbean with 175-mph winds
Realizing the significant obstacles to transport fuel to the Caribbean islands following Hurricane Maria, DLA Energy and TFA began developing a concept of operation well ahead of the storm. They prepared to move fuel to Puerto Rico and other surrounding areas via barge as soon as ports were reopened.
As they had previously done for hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, TFA deployed to the region to provide command and control for the FEMA contingency fuels contract. However this time, they weren’t able to establish their post on the outskirts of impacted areas.
“TFA arrived in Puerto Rico encountering a different concept of support,” Carrasquillo said. “This time TFA was operating within the affected areas. TFA needed to overcome the challenges of terrain, road conditions, zero communication, logistics nodes and language barriers.”
DLA Energy Contracting Officer Daisy Williams, who was in Puerto Rico supporting TFA, had to overcome unique challenges to get fuel where it was needed. Williams even had to find a way to accept manual transactions since electronic processing methods weren’t possible.
“As I arrived on the island, I was not prepared to see the devastation these two hurricanes left,” she said, referring to Irma and Maria, which both impacted Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. “One hundred percent of the island was without power, no landlines or cell phones, and internet communications were almost non-existent.”
Knowing the fuel storage facilities were likely to be severely damaged during the major hurricane, DLA Energy sent quality assurance representatives to Puerto Rico to provide assessments of the fuel infrastructure and bulk petroleum expertise to the U.S. Army 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and FEMA.
“The island-wide electrical grid and communication failures immediately hindered timely evaluations of capabilities and requirements support across the island,” TFA Quality Assurance Representative Terry Russell said. “Face-to-face meetings were required with customers to determine detailed requirements, supply shortfalls and arrange a variety of fuel sourcing options to eliminate mission shortfalls or failures.”
Early in October, 120 DLA Energy-contracted fuel trucks carrying 433,000 gallons of fuel arrived at the Port of San Juan via barge. TFA immediately began supplying much-needed fuel to critical locations such as hospitals, kidney centers, elderly homes, orphanages, schools and shelters as well as federal responders and other Department of Defense forces.
Realizing local fuel vendors could not support citizens’ needs, Carrasquillo and her team set up 10 regional staging areas to distribute gasoline and propane throughout Puerto Rico. Each area maintained 5,000 gallons of diesel and 3,000 gallons of gasoline on site to support federal first responders and generators throughout the island.
Despite efforts to plan for all contingencies, they still faced challenges.
“We loaded two fuel trucks on watercraft to respond to emergency requirements in Culebra and Vieques (two municipality islands),” Carrasquillo said. “We demonstrated that there are no impossible missions when we have a common objective: saving lives.”
Through their daily travels and meetings, the team learned of a hospital, dialysis unit and orphanage in need of diesel support for emergency generators to keep critical systems operating. After clearing the request with FEMA, TFA delivered fuel to these locations.
“This operation touched the hearts of our deployed volunteers and barely scratched the surface of those who assisted in the ongoing relief efforts,” Russell said. “There are a lot of success stories as we helped arrange and get fuel to hospitals, orphanages, elderly and out-of-the-way villages in the mountains, that make us feel good about what we are doing.”
While Hurricanes Harvey and Irma challenged response efforts, Hurricane Maria’s impact on remote islands put coordination and teamwork to the ultimate test.
“The collaboration and synchronization among all the key players such as FEMA, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 4th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, Puerto Rico National Guard and the Puerto Rico Police Department have been fundamental in providing the right fuel despite the logistical challenges,” Carrasquillo said.
While TFA directly influenced recovery operations in the impacted areas, other components of the DLA Energy team were also engaged in hurricane relief efforts. The DLA Energy Operations Center, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is the crisis management focal point during natural disasters, exercises and contingencies. The operations center would notify the DLA Joint Logistics Operation Center that FEMA had issued an activation fuel delivery order and became aware of any and all issues affecting DLA Energy’s ability to support FEMA’s fuel requirements.
Additionally, the DLA Energy Operations Center coordinates fuel support within the DOD joint fuel community (including U.S. Northern Command, DLA Energy regional offices, DLA Energy liaison officers and FEMA) to support Class III requirements.
The DLA Energy Operations Center held daily synchronization briefings during hurricane response efforts, collecting mission assignments for fuel support, requests for information and requirements.
“It is truly an enterprise effort requiring the DLA enterprise, FEMA, U.S. Northern Command and Foster Fuels to make this happen,” said DLA Energy Americas Operations Support Director David Ray.
DLA Energy Contracting Officer Georgia Dotson oversaw all fuel contracting efforts for FEMA throughout the three hurricanes.
As the executive agent for Class III products, petroleum, oil and lubricants, DLA Energy provides support to FEMA through its multi-purpose fuel contingency contact with a designated fuel contractor. Since March 2006, DLA Energy has provided ground fuel support to meet FEMA’s fuel requirements during presidentially-declared national emergencies and disasters.
“There are a lot of moving parts and incredible people involved in making the support a success,” Dotson said. “Fuel is the feeding line of an entire area to recover from a disaster. Between relief efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, DLA Energy has provided more than 1.3 million gallons of diesel and 380,000 gallons of gasoline.”
DLA Energy Aerospace Energy also provided the Puerto Rico Air National Guard with 1,000 gallons of Aviator Breathing Oxygen from off-island sources after their local supplier exhausted all supplies.
DLA Energy quality managers and quality assurance specialists worked to bring the contractor’s liquid oxygen plant, which supplies aviator oxygen and medical oxygen for hospital use, back online.
Returning to normal
As day-to-day operations evolved from responding to immediate requirements to assisting with long-term sustainment requirements, DLA Energy fuel specialists worked to transition from FEMA-provided fuel to a DLA Energy-contracted solution and eventual return to pre-hurricane operations.
Carrasquillo compared the teamwork required at DLA Energy Americas East to a baseball game.
“Everybody is an important player in our DLA Energy Americas East team,” she said. “We will play hard in order to win every game; however, in the event of having a bad day, we will regroup and find out what we need to improve or adjust in order to come back stronger for the next game.”
Chapin applauded the efforts of Task Force Americas in their response to back-to-back-to-back storms.
“Task Force Americas has demonstrated the importance – and value – of a trained and resilient DLA Energy workforce,” he said. “Whether it is a task force execution or forward deployed teams, the response has been phenomenal. Our entire DLA Energy team did amazing things to help people in need, and I continue to be amazed every time I see seemingly impossible things getting accomplished on a daily basis.”