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News | Sept. 23, 2015

DLA Energy Americas prepares for natural disasters

By Jonathan Stack DLA Energy Public Affairs

Defense Logistics Agency Energy Americas employees frequently deal with hurricanes and tropical storms in their area of operation.

With the Atlantic hurricane season beginning in June every year, it is their policy to fill defense fuel support points along the East Coast and Gulf Coast to the maximum extent possible.

“These efforts ensure sufficient product is available to support hurricane recovery missions and prevent fuel tanks from floating off pads in the event of flooding or storm surges,” said Jason Hill, Americas at Houston Operations Support director. “DLA Energy Americas supply planners continuously assess inventory levels at DFSPs in coastal areas and maintain strong communications with base fuel personnel during the hurricane season.”

Not only is preparation for natural disasters a part of Americas’ mission, but so is responding. In order to accomplish this mission, leaders developed Task Force Americas in response to natural disasters.

“Task Force Americas was developed in response to Hurricane Sandy relief operations in November 2012,” Hill said.

The team of bulk petroleum subject matter experts consists of quality assurance representatives, supply planners, resolution specialists and several other specialties.  

“The primary objective of the task force is to ensure the effective and efficient execution of the DLA Energy Federal Emergency Management Agency contingency contract,” Hill said. “Some of the essential functions of the task force include timely deployment, establishment of communications and providing responsive and adaptive bulk petroleum planning and coordination.  

Hill said the task force works closely with the DLA Energy/FEMA contingency contractor to ultimately get the right fuel, to the right place and at the right time.

The task force was one of the lessons learned from responding to Hurricane Sandy.

“Several lessons were learned from Hurricane Sandy, and the most valuable lesson was the need for a task force designed to get the right people on the ground, assess the situation and assist the DLA Energy/FEMA contingency contractor as they execute fuel support operations,” Hill said.

Sandy was a huge paradigm shift in the approach to disaster response, he added. Providing assistance and support from the region’s headquarters located 1,500 miles away from the impact area was not the most effective control mechanism or process.  

“To truly be effective during disaster response operations, (Hurricane) Sandy highlighted the need to have the right people onsite making coordination happen, answering questions and getting the right fuel to the right place,” he said. “We also learned product accountability is a critical task; we still need to track the issued amounts of fuel even if it is utilized for disaster response. In the rush and chaos of disaster response, the accurate accounting of fuel and inventory must not be overlooked.”

Dissemination and clarity of information was another lesson learned from Hurricane Sandy.  

“It’s not enough to just report quantities, metrics and statics; the information has to be analyzed and predictive,” Hill said. “Having experts onsite to assess the situation, understand requirements, plan and accurately report progress or challenges has a significant positive impact on the overall success of any mission.”

Although there are lessons to be learned, DLA Energy Americas’ role in disaster response has not really changed over the years. DLA Energy is still tasked with the responsibility of ensuring fuel is available for federal agencies responding to disasters.  

“The way in which DLA Energy Americas (personnel) execute their response effort has significantly changed,” Hill said. “Over the past decade, we’ve transitioned from a team of two personnel deploying to an impacted area to a task force of up to 20 personnel. We conduct annual exercises where we deploy Task Force Americas and practice critical task techniques, and procedures.”

During the Hurricane Katrina disaster response in August 2005, DLA Energy Americas deployed two personnel to assist FEMA with fuel requests. In January 2010, five QARs deployed assisting U.S. armed forces and assess fuel infrastructure after a devastating 7.2 earthquake hit the Haiti. Immediately following landfall of Hurricane Sandy in November 2012, DLA Energy Americas deployed 18 personnel to the impacted region.  

“This is when the term ‘Task Force Americas’ was first used,” Hill said. “DLA Energy even provided two personnel to assist with fuel accountability and daily operations. In short, DLA Energy Americas’ response to disasters has expanded over the years. The development of an expeditionary Task Force comprised of bulk petroleum experts, planners, and operators has postured us for even more robust and comprehensive support in future disaster response.”

No matter what natural disaster DLA Americas personnel are responding to, Hill said it’s important that regular operations continue.

“Continuity of operations is a top priority of our new regional commander, Army Col. Craig Simonsgaard,” he added. “Having a plan on paper is a great start, but practicing that plan is essential to the successful execution of continuity operations. Our continuity plans focus on the most likely courses of action that could impact our daily operations.”

Plans cover short and long term interruptions, minor and severe facility damage and identification of key personnel that must relocate as part of the Emergency Relocation team.

“A primary component of our COOP plans is the implementation of telework,” Hill said. “We’re currently reassessing our ability to transfer essential functions and operations to different regional offices or even back to DLA Energy headquarters.”

The mission must continue, even if office space isn’t available, he added. COOP is exercised every year; however, these tests are usually conducted as table top exercises, but they are not necessarily the best way to identify shortfalls and gaps in a plan.  

“We’re reestablishing a COOP working group to review our plans more frequently and schedule more detailed and challenging exercises,” Hill said.

He said being resilient in the face of an unknown disaster is also important, and resiliency ultimately comes down to personnel.  

“You can have the most current technology and the best plans, but if people are not dedicated and motivated, executing the mission will not happen,” Hill said. “It’s very beneficial to work for an organization that values its workforce, invests in training and understands the importance of having a clear mission statement and organizational vision.”

Hill added DLA Energy Americas has always had incredible personnel volunteer for disaster response missions, whether it is serving on the DLA Initial Response team or volunteering to serve with Task Force Americas.