LATHAM, N.Y. –After a week of rain, Soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s 204th Engineer Battalion worked hard clearing debris from select streams, on Oct. 2 to make room for what forecasters feared most: more water, as Hurricane Joaquin moved north.
“With the potential threat of flooding, the National Guard is a huge asset since it brings resources to open the creek,” said George Kansas, the commissioner of Public Works for Bethlehem, New York.
The Normanskill Creek runs through the town into the Hudson River.
“There are roughly 40-50 homes and a waste water treatment facility that could be impacted if this area floods so having the National Guard Soldiers help getting this done as quick as possible is a huge benefit,” Kansas said.
Down in the Catskills, New York Department of Environmental Maintenance Assistant Brian Perez, also thought the decision by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to allow theNational Guard and his agency to clear streams ahead of the potential storm was a good one.
National Guard engineers from the 204th’s 827th Engineer Company worked with Perez to clear debris from Esopus Creek near Shandanken, New York.
“This is the first time we’re out here before the storm,” Perez said. “Preventative maintenance will help reduce the impact on the community.”
“We’re pulling trees and debris from the creek and pushing it back on land.”
“This is the last stop for debris before it hits, and potentially knocks out, local bridges and roads,” Perez added.
“We’re giving people time to escape floods and giving hope that they’re being taken care of,” said Spc. Dakota Nelson, a heavy equipment operator in the 204th Engineer Battalion’s 827th Engineer Company.
Cuomo called out 200 Soldiers of the New York Army National Guard to clear rain-soaked streams in upstate New York and prepare to call up more troops as part of statewide storm preparations for the impact of Joaquin.
After a week of heavy rains, the potential wind damage and rainfall from the hurricane raised concerns in the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, so ArmyNational Guard engineers were called in as other National Guard forces prepared for the storm’s arrival.
Although Joaquin was anticipated to remain offshore and not hit the coast, the 204th Engineer Soldiers went to work on Friday and expected to be working Saturday just in case.
“We’ve helped in the past with cleanup and this is very proactive. We’re taking care of the problem before it has a chance to destroy people’s home, property and memories,” said 2nd Lt. Emily Ruegger, a platoon leader in the 204th Engineer’s 827th Engineer Company.
The work is tricky, though, the engineer Soldiers said.
“It’s dangerous removing debris; logs are like a puzzle – when you move one piece others can move as well,” explained Nelson, as he prepared to clear debris from Esopus Creek.
Other teams of Army National Guard engineers were also at work on streams near Illion, New York, in the Mohawk Valley near Herkimer on Friday.
The New York National Guard was prepared to deploy up to 3,000 troops if need be had Hurricane Joaquin made landfall.
State officials continued to monitor the storm Friday, although it was expected that the hurricane would miss New York.
“As Hurricane Joaquin makes its way up the East Coast, New York is in a much better position today than we have ever been before - but when it comes to Mother Nature, you can never be too prepared,” Cuomo said.
National Guard preparations included identifying up to 3,000 response forces for alert and mobilization as part of the New York National Guard coastal storm response plan.
Commands from Long Island to Niagara Falls coordinated their efforts to have Soldiers and Airmen ready to move before Joaquin would make landfall anywhere in the state.
Soldiers of the Guard’s 53rd Digital Liaison Detachment, a headquarters staff augmentation force, provided operations, administration and logistics experts to supplement the New York City Emergency Management Office, providing liaison and staff depth to the team of emergency managers.
The difficulty for National Guard forces in hurricane response is knowing where the storm will go and when to bring in forces. With Hurricane Joaquin still four days away in the Caribbean, storm tracks varied between landfall in the Carolinas to arriving on Long Island or farther out to sea, said Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Peno, the knowledge manager for the New York Joint Operations Center.
“Part of the challenge with this storm is trying to determine when the turn to the north would begin,” Peno, an Air Force meterologist, explained. “That would be a major factor to consider when looking at the Bermuda high, the stalled front, the jet stream, and other factors.”
Just as quickly as the threat of a major hurricane in New York grabbed the attention of emergency managers and state leaders, the track of Joaquin was forecasted to move farther out to sea, sparing New York and Long Island from the gale force winds, heavy rains and local flooding of the early fall storm.
Although the relief of the storm’s movement away from New York City was welcome by military planners, the actions of the New York National Guard helped validate and further refine response plans for the future.
“Our preparations were a great exercise of our plan,” said Brig. Gen. Raymond Shields, director of the Joint Staff, in an email to the force following notification that the New York City Office of Emergency Management would scale back its operations by Saturday evening, Oct. 3.
The important role for the Guard with the storm moving out to sea will be refining response plans, Shields explained.
“Specifically, we want to develop checklists for key activities. Rather than relying on lengthy CONPLAN [contingency plan] documents or institutional memory we will be developing check lists which will make future responses even better,” Shields said.
Contributing: Sgt. Michael Davis, 138th Public Affairs Detachment; Sgt. Maj. Corine Lombardo, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs; and Eric Durr, NewYork State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.