PORTLAND, Ore. – As Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida Sept. 28, more than a dozen volunteers with the Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared for a new mission: taking calls from those affected by the natural disaster.
The group is helping stand up a call center that will link Florida homeowners with the Operation Blue Roof mission. Operation Blue Roof, managed by the Corps of Engineers on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides a free installation of a fiber-reinforced sheeting to cover hurricane-damaged roofs until homeowners can arrange permanent repairs.
The Corps’ Portland District headquarters in downtown Portland is the new, permanent home for the Operation Blue Roof call center. Previously, Operation Blue Roof call centers, which operate for about 30 days, were typically established in the same state where officials declared a disaster following a hurricane. Officials decided to re-home the call center to avoid losing critical resources, like hotel rooms and rental cars, to out-of-state volunteers flown in to assist with storm recovery efforts.
Approximately 25 Corps employees will support the call center, which responds to thousands of calls a day. After Hurricane Ida in 2021, the Operation Blue Roof Call center received a peak call volume of 16,772 calls a day.
Lance Lindsay, Portland District readiness section chief, will help oversee the call center, which will operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We anticipate a month of hard effort in response to Hurricane Ian,” Lindsay said.
Before the center opens for operations, trained Portland District employees will test functionality levels with a “load test” Sept. 30 as test callers navigate the message system and are then routed to an employee at the call center. The center is one of three ways homeowners can sign up for the service; the other two methods are in-person at designated locations and online.
Officials expect the call center to be ready as early as Oct. 1. But the center can only accept calls following an initial damage assessment, a governor’s request for assistance, and an Operation Blue Roof mission assignment from FEMA.
For now, the employees are being trained to take calls.
Sam Lynch, who works for the channels and harbors section in the Portland District, volunteered to work in the call center.
“I’m from Florida, so I was interested in helping out,” she said. “It’s a way to be involved without needing to travel.”
As part of Operation Blue Roof, the Corps works with local contractors to install the temporary roofs, which protect property, reduce temporary housing costs, and allow residents to remain in their homes while recovering from a storm. After Hurricane Ida, Operation Blue Roof contractors installed 33,600 temporary roofs in Louisiana.
“We’re honored to play a role in supporting communities in Florida as they work to recover in the days and weeks ahead,” said Col. Mike Helton, Portland District commander. “This is what being a civil servant is about: working for the people.”
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