Assessment of Geospatial Technology Applications by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World Trade Center Operations

Report Prepared by The George Washington University
Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management

4. Role of USACE at the WTC Response Operations

The USACE responded to the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as FEMA’s lead for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #3 (Public Works and Engineering) as prescribed by the Federal Response Plan. USACE assistance included support to US&R teams, provision of temporary emergency power to critical facilities, technical assistance for the debris removal operations and the management of the landfill operations. The local, state and Federal response to the consequences of these attacks has served to clarify the significant role the USACE will have in the development and implementation of national and regional contingency plans for effectively addressing the worst case” consequences of other terrorist attacks.

The USACE’s role in responding to WTC attacks was authorized by the Stafford Act as implemented by the Federal Response Plan (FRP). Under the FRP, the USACE acts as the primary agency for ESF#3, Public Works and Engineering.  Although the typical USACE ESF#3 missions include the provision of critical goods and services such as debris removal, water supply, ice supply, temporary housing construction, temporary roofing repair, emergency power supply and structural safety assessment, during the response to the attacks on WTC, the major role of the Corps was the provision of technical assistance for the debris removal operations and the management of the landfill operations. The Corps executed its missions through its Planning and Response Teams (PRT) under the designated team leaders. The ESF#3 Team Leaders were responsible for the overall management of Corps missions during these operations. The ESF#3 Team Leaders’ main duty was to supervise the efforts of individual mission action officers, and given that it was a national emergency, report directly to the FEMA Infrastructure Support Branch Chief.

4.1. EST Activation

On September 11, 2001, the Emergency Support Team (EST) Level 1 activation occurred at 10:00 AM when the USACE Team Leader was deployed to the scene at WTC. At 11:00 AM, FEMA verbally issued the first set of USACE mission assignments. The mission assignments were issued for national activation, regional activation, to the debris management cell, structural safety specialists, logistics Planning and Response Teams (PRT) and Deployable Tactical Operating Center (DTOC). By the end of September 11th, 58 structural specialists were identified as available for deployment, along with the Debris and Power PRTs that were activated for deployment. The two ESF#3 Team Leaders, Mike Beaird and Stan Ballard, who were interviewed for this study, were also identified and they arrived at the scene on September 12th. Ed Hecker, Chief of Civil Emergency Management Branch, who was in Montana for the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Conference with FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh, also deployed back to USACE Headquarters  at the end of the first day. The DFO was established on September 14 in NYC at Pier 90. Additional Team Leaders were deployed during the first 7 days into the operations. Thomas Porter, interviewed by the GW team, was deployed as the liaison to NYC on Sept. 17th.

4.2. Emergency Power

The power PRT Action Officer and the Prime Power Units were deployed to NYC on September 12th.  By the end of Sept 13th, the Prime Power Units were operating in NYC, working with state and local officials and Con Edison (ConEd) to assess the critical facilities. On Sept. 17th, the USACE’s Power PRTs expanded to 12 two-person teams to conduct load isolation and installation of ConEd generators at critical facilities. They completed their missions the next day leaving only one Prime Power liaison on site. The power mission was physically closed out on Sept. 20th.

4.3. Debris Technical Assistance

The USACE debris subject matter experts (SME) (Allen Morse and Beau Hanna) were deployed to the scene on Sept. 13th  and commenced coordination of the debris handling of the four contracting firms with FEMA and NYC. On Sept. 15th, the debris SMEs visited the landfill site and saw that the process of sorting and searching through debris was painfully slow. During the next couple days, the debris team coordinated with NYC to devise a Debris Removal Action Plan for FEMA that would show the progress of debris removal and would allow tracking the tonnage of debris being removed. On Sept.17th, 10 debris specialists were deployed to work with Allen Morse and Beau Hanna in monitoring the debris operations for FEMA.  On Sept.19th, the debris team was tasked to provide 15,000 load tickets and train the city personnel in their use and 4 engineers were deployed to develop an overall debris estimate. Two days later, the possibility of dumping the debris to the ocean was explored but the EPA rejected the idea and Staten Island was chosen as the landfill area. On Sept. 23rd, 12 debris specialists started debris monitoring. USACE completed its part of the Debris Operations Plan on Sept. 23rd and turned the operations over to FEMA at the DFO. The official joint estimate of the total debris amount was released at 1.2 million tons. The discussions with NYC and FEMA regarding the City’s request for the USACE to manage the debris disposal site began on 25 Sept. By the end of 29 Sept., approximately 145,000 tons of debris was removed from the WTC site inclusive of the steel designated for recycling.  As of 21 May 2002, 1,625,550 tons of debris had been removed from the WTC site.

4.4. Structural Engineering Support

A structural SME, 15 structural specialists, and a 14-person survey team were identified and deployed to NYC on 13 Sept. There were two main structural assessment requirements at the World Trade Center: (1) Assessment of stability of surrounding buildings, and (2) Structural safety assessments of debris piles to determine if US&R and debris removal operations could be safely conducted.  By 15 Sept., the structural specialists began supporting the debris and US&R activities. The USACE US&R support initially augmented FEMA US&R task forces and worked out of the Structural Engineering Cell under the FEMA Incident Support Team (IST). The US&R Structural Specialist (SS) cadre members engaged in supporting the Fire Department of NY (FDNY), New York Police Department (NYPD), FBI, FEMA US&R Task Forces, city consultants and others involved in the US&R mission, and on safety issues associated with various recovery efforts such as maintaining the integrity of the below-grade cutoff (slurry) wall that was erected below-grade prior to WTC construction to hold back the Hudson River, building monitoring, assessments of buildings in the periphery of WTC and locating drill sites to facilitate camera-aided searches.

On Sept. 18th, the structural engineers were tasked to support the Transit Authority in assessing the safety of the subway tunnels. By 20 Sept., the structural mission diminished and the structural survey team and the 10 structural specialists were released. Mark Wingate, interviewed by the GW Team, was deployed on 24 September to replace Kelley Aasen as the US&R Structures Specialist Team Manager. On Sept. 26th, the remaining four structural specialists were relieved by new team members and the SME departed NYC. The 15 structural specialists were reduced to three by 30 Sept., and those remaining moved to an office on West and Chambers Streets across from Ground Zero. On Sept. 30th, three structural engineers were still assisting the State on verbal mission assignments from the Operations Officer at the DFO. The original mission of mapping subterranean collapsed areas of the WTC expanded to general technical assistance to NYC, which involved continuing the work of US&R cadre, collapsed status mapping, subway assessments, and foundation (slurry wall) inspections. October 16, 2001 was the last official day of the extended US&R/SS Technical Assistance Mission.