NEW ORLEANS—Water-logged floorboards. Moldy sheetrock. Broken windows. Desperation. For many survivors of Hurricane Ida, the storm itself was not the worst part—the worst of their experience was the growing anxiety of watching their homes quickly deteriorate every day it was left exposed to the elements.
With the unforgiving humidity and bouts of rain typical at this time of year in southeastern Louisiana, thousands of homeowners and renters have invited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Operation Blue Roof” team to assist them in securing one of the most basic of human needs—shelter.
Rhianna Hardy-Janisch, a civil engineer hailing from the USACE Tulsa district knows how critical the need is in the impacted parishes. She has been on the ground in New Orleans since Sept. 8 on a voluntary deployment to assist the public with issues they may have with their blue roof installation.
“Right now, any time people have any leaks, they’re going to call—they’re upset. This is their home—it’s been ravaged by a storm and so we’re trying to alleviate leaks with our tarps.”
USACE utilizes three prime contractors to install the fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting for Operation Blue Roof. But even with high-quality materials and experienced installers, roofs damaged by hurricanes are always susceptible to some level of vulnerability, especially when new storms pop up. For workers out in the hot sun working 7 days a week—sometimes more than 12 hours a day to meet the high demand, human error and unforeseen installation issues are possible—addressing these issues is where Hardy-Janisch comes in.
“We have a complaint listing…I will go through there item by item, usually by the date that it is called,” says Hardy-Janisch, but items needing more immediate attention may be prioritized, she says. The quality-control resolution team will review the original work order and compare what damage was reported on the structure to how much tarp the USACE contractors installed. Hardy-Janisch has performed both virtual and field assessments and because of her experience, she knows what to look for and identify inconsistencies.
Answering phones from the public has its own challenges.
People calling are already upset about their damaged home, so having issues with their installation adds additional stress, Hardy-Janisch says. Fielding public complaints is not a job for just anyone, she adds.
“You have to have empathy for the people, you have to be patient. They’re going to be upset, they’re going to be mad, they might take it out on you. They might cry, they might have other pressures in their life. I’ve talked to people that came right from a funeral.”
Selfless service is a core tenet of Army values and Hardy-Janisch’s previous work in swift water and mountain rescue, as well as being a volunteer EMT and fire-fighter shows a continued desire to serve those in need. Being on the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid, shelter is a physiological requirement for human survival. Hardy-Janisch’s work with disaster victims focuses on meeting that critical need so southeastern Louisianans are in a stable situation from which they can start getting their lives back to normal.
“It is amazing. I have always volunteered whenever I can…as soon as I found out there was an opportunity to come out here and help, I jumped on it. I like to know the stories. I like to know the people I’m assisting. It gives me warm and fuzzies to know I’m making a difference.”
The USACE is installing approximately 1,000 blue roofs daily.
“Quality-control resolution teams like the one Hardy-Janisch volunteers on are important because the Corps has a duty and responsibility to get the job done and to get it done right”, says Operation Blue Roof mission manager Kevin Slattery, USACE St. Louis District.
“We are committed to ensuring the crews we send out are doing high-quality work and by having a way for the public to let us know where we can improve, it allows us to fix issues and work with our contractors to improve on the next home. Continual process improvement is essential to mission execution,” Slattery says.
Homeowners and renters with issues regarding their USACE-installed blue roof can either call 1-888-ROOF-BLU (1-888-766-3258) or submit a complaint online at blueroof.us.
Operation Blue Roof is a Federal Emergency Management Agency priority mission managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For more information regarding the recovery effort, please visit http: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/hurricane-id.