Silver is the new black … and red, blue and green

Oregon Silver Jackets take on flood risks

By  Ryan Cahill, Engineering and Construction Division

Ryan Cahill, Portland District Silver Jackets interim coordinator, installs high water mark signs Dec. 12, 2014, at Monteith Riverpark, Albany, Oregon. The Oregon Silver Jackets team plans to post high water mark signs in other Oregon communities to build public awareness of flood risk. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Ryan Cahill, Portland District Silver Jackets interim coordinator, installs high water mark signs Dec. 12, 2014, at Monteith Riverpark, Albany, Oregon. The Oregon Silver Jackets team plans to post high water mark signs in other Oregon communities to build public awareness of flood risk. (Corps of Engineers photo)

 

Preparing for, responding to and recovering from extreme weather is the mission of the Oregon Silver Jackets team. The team has created a culture that fosters relationships and positions Oregon communities for the best outcome when the event takes place. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Preparing for, responding to and recovering from extreme weather is the mission of the Oregon Silver Jackets team. The team has created a culture that fosters relationships and positions Oregon communities for the best outcome when the event takes place. (Corps of Engineers photo)

There’s no way to avoid the impacts of extreme weather events. In the northwest those extreme events often arrive in the form of floods. Big floods, like in 1948, 1964 and 1996. Oregonians are resilient people who recovered from these events, learning lessons that have improved how we respond to emergencies. One of those lessons is that agencies have to work together, ideally before the next event occurs.

Enter the Oregon Silver Jackets.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Silver Jackets Program supports USACE participation on state-led flood risk management teams. These partnerships allow agencies to coordinate actions before, during and after a flood event.

“This team’s purpose is to bring federal, state and local agencies together for a common cause: reducing disaster risk,” said Lance Lindsay, Portland District’s Readiness section chief. “Looking back and considering what stands out from the most successful emergency response operations, we see that healthy, pre-existing relationships among the responding agencies precede most positive outcomes.”

Silver Jacket teams in 43 states and the District of Columbia are at work, ready to prepare for and respond to flood events in their communities. The Oregon team was established in 2011 as a subcommittee to the State Interagency Hazard Mitigation Team. The team addresses flooding emergencies and flood preparedness, and consists of state and federal agencies that deal with flood risk.

“We achieve better outcomes when we work together,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Director of Contingency Operations and Office of Homeland Security, Headquarters, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Working with the state Silver Jackets teams helps integrate the efforts of the Corps of Engineers with those of other flood risk management partners in support of state priorities, and helps the states leverage resources.”

The Silver Jackets team prepares for emergencies by conducting periodic exercises to keep members refreshed on roles and responsibilities during floods. The team has also developed a plan to collect valuable field data immediately after floods; data that would otherwise be lost to the passage of time.

Their unusual name stems from the interagency nature of the team. Traditionally, agencies wear different colored jackets when responding to emergencies. For example, Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel wear blue, Corps personnel wear red, U.S. Geological Survey people wear green. Silver represents the union of all agencies’ colors, and the name Silver Jackets is used to underscore the common mission of a single team of diverse agencies working together to reduce flood risk at the state level.

QuoteBoxThis collaboration is relatively new. Even a decade ago, many agencies were fairly isolated from each other, but this approach proved ineffective. The middle of a flood event is not a good time to meet counterparts at other agencies for the first time. Hurricane Katrina brought many of these communication issues to light in a very public way. While enhanced coordination would not have prevented all of the difficulties surrounding the response to Hurricane Katrina, having relationships in place may have helped the response and recovery proceed more smoothly. In fact, Hurricane Katrina was one of the primary drivers of starting the Silver Jackets program nationally.

Ryan Cahill, Portland District Silver Jackets interim coordinator, installs high water mark signs Dec. 12, 2014, at Monteith Riverpark, Albany, Oregon. The Oregon Silver Jackets team plans to post high water mark signs in other Oregon communities to build public awareness of flood risk. (Corps of Engineers photo)Like a well-rooted plant, these interagency relationships bear fruit on an ongoing basis. For instance, when significant flooding was forecasted in northwest Oregon in December 2014, the team held a meeting to confirm the roles/responsibilities of the agencies. While the event did not materialize, the team had prepared for the event and coordinated actions.

More recently, the team responded to the flooding threat posed from wildfire-scorched areas in Grant County. If the Silver Jackets did not exist, there would have been confusion about which agencies needed to be involved, and efforts may have been duplicated and inefficient. Fortunately, regular communications between the team ensured that all agencies were informed of the status and progress at once, rather than each agency coordinating one-on-one with other agencies.

While the work of the Silver Jackets team isn’t highly visible, you see evidence of their work in several areas. In 2014, the team installed signs in Albany, Oregon City and Turner, showing just how high the water reached during historic floods.

The city of Mitchell, Oregon, is working on plans to install a flash flood warning system – the Silver Jacket team has been working behind the scenes to ensure this system is as effective as possible.

Technology has come a long way when it comes to tracking storms and knowing when to expect potential flood events, but it’s no substitute for being prepared for an emergency. The Oregon Silver Jackets team is taking the lead to help us all prepare, respond and recover. Together.

Learn more about the Oregon Silver Jackets at http://silverjackets.nfrmp.us/State-Teams