Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) are fond of telling their mission partners that when they work with the District, they not only get its expertise but also the expertise of the entire Corps of Engineers. It’s a message that rings true across the entire USACE spectrum of operations and one that is being put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, although the Middle East District mission is primarily outside the continental U.S., an engineering team from the District has share its expertise locally when USACE’s Norfolk District asked for assistance in conducting assessments of Northern Virginia facilities that could potentially be adapted as alternate care facilities (ACF). USACE is working on the assessments for FEMA at the request of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management.
“We’re headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, and our primary mission is to support the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East,” said Col. Philip Secrist, TAM Commander. “Most Corps projects in Virginia would normally be handled by the USACE’s Norfolk or Huntington Districts. With USACE once again being called to engineer solutions to our Nation’s toughest challenges specifically assessing and converting facilities into alternate care facilities there is a high demand for certain technical skills. Within the Middle East District, many teammates expressed their interest to assist with USACE’s current COVID-19 response so when Norfolk District requested assistance we had team members chomping at the bit to serve.”
The assessments involve looking at facilities in different communities that could potentially be used to provide additional medical space should it be required. An assessment does not mean that a particular facility would ever be used or that there is a current requirement.
The District team members involved said that, in addition to being given the opportunity to do something to help, they were also grateful for the chance to practice their skills and work as part of the assessment team.
“Although this is a unique task, confronting this virus, I think that the cooperation (we’re seeing) has provided us with a useful experience for other projects we might have in the future. It’s great to see people of all different specialties, from building engineers to maintenance workers, providing the necessary support,” said Morteza Mostaghim, an electrical engineer with TAM.
Nick Corbin, another TAM electrical engineer, echoed his colleague’s feelings about being part of the team.
“It’s great to work in the field with other disciplines and see firsthand how all the pieces fit together,” he said. “I've learned a lot about different electrical layouts for various types of buildings. No two were identical. It’s nice to see examples in the field and compare them to what's on electrical one-line diagrams. It's nice to be out doing field work.”
A third member of the team, Shufeng Lin, an architect and the team leader for the Middle East District assessors, was just happy that he had the right skills to help.
“As the architect of the team, I am responsible for the space assessment based upon the "business rules” given. I had been a hospital architect for 7 years before I worked for the federal government and I’m now finding that experience can be helpful,” he said.
Although the engineers are concerned about COVID-19, they are being cautious during their assessments, practicing social distancing among the team, and are happy they can contribute.
“It’s great to go into local communities and different areas of the state and know that you are helping,” said Lin.
For their part, USACE’s Norfolk District was happy to have the help with the assessments as it lessened their travel requirements.
“The TAM team was an extremely valuable asset to the Corps and the Norfolk District Coronavirus response. Their expertise was invaluable in providing facility assessments quickly and reducing travel throughout the Commonwealth to help facilitate social distancing,” said Cpt. Douglas Cook, Norfolk District facilities assessment team leader.
Garrison Myer, a TAM civil engineer on the team summed up the feelings of the team in the impact the mission has made on them.
“Being in the empty spaces made me realize the magnitude of the situation that we're in. These are (places) that are all supposed to be full of people, instead they are empty because of the virus. In essence the whole thing was a very haunting experience. I'm just glad I was able to be part of the effort to make use of those spaces now and to hopefully help them return to their intended use,” said Myer.