As residents of the Florida panhandle scrambled to prepare for Hurricane Michael, first responders and others who have to be ready to act as soon as the storm is over were waiting on “the call” to find out whether or not they would be mobilized to help. One such person was Cuhaci & Peterson’s Vice President of Structural Engineering, Brett Rylands. As a past President of the Florida Structural Engineers Association (FSEA), Brett is also a credentialed NCSEA Structural Engineer Emergency Response (SEER) and US Army Corps of Engineers Structures Specialist (USACE Sts-1) with the Florida Task Force 4 Urban Search and Rescue.

Through mutual contacts Brett began training with the Florida Task Force 4 Urban Search and Rescue in 2016 and has been deployed 2 years in a row now due to Hurricanes. He explained, “I am one of very few engineers in the US that is a USACE Structures Specialist. Members of the Florida Task Force 4 Urban Search and Rescue are first responders in times of major disasters, man-made or natural.  Anything from an airline catastrophe to hurricanes, floods and earthquakes.  Deployment is rare–thankfully.  Two years in a row for a few days is unusual.”

In order to be in place to respond to Hurricane Michael, State Emergency Operations assemble a three man reconnaissance teams (a task force leader, hazmat specialist and structures specialist). Rylands said, “I got the call at 6:30 am Tuesday that we were needed.  We were paired up with National Guard, FWC and police.  We went to Tallahassee before the storm and as soon as it passed we pushed our way into the hardest hit areas.  Our mission was to assess the damage and call in the right type and quantity of initial resources.  We then worked our way inland to do the same, and check on local Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), shelters and hospitals.  Communications were down in the hardest hit counties and the only information getting back to the state EOC and Incident Management Team was through teams like us using satellite phones and even driving out of blackout areas to cell service.”

The training for these type of volunteer positions occurs only once a year and is provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers via DHS/FEMA at the NASA AMES Research Center in California. Cuhaci & Peterson President Emeritus, Jed Downs said, “We’re proud to have one of our own stepping up to do this important work.”

Photo credit: Brett Rylands-Florida Panhandle