WSP Provides Hurricane Recovery Support to FEMA

When natural disasters strike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is called upon to aid in rebuilding communities to help victims get back on their feet.

But when FEMA arrives at the scene, it calls upon WSP USA to assist in those disaster recovery efforts. The firm has successfully supported FEMA with housing inspection services for more than 20 years.

The WSP team has qualified housing inspectors in every U.S. state and territory, ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice, regardless of what type of disaster strikes, where and when.

“We maintain a cadre of inspectors in a 24/7, on-call readiness state, who can respond to any call the U.S. government may make,” said Greg Reynolds, director of U.S. FEMA operations for WSP. “We are required to respond in less than 24 hours to have inspectors working on site. Being able to assist affected homeowners following a disaster is a humbling experience and enables us to help communities get back on their feet.”

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©2017 FEMA

FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue Virginia Task Force Two searches Houston neighborhoods after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, where fast-rising floodwaters would sometimes trap WSP inspectors during home inspections.

One Million Inspections

The 2017 fall hurricane season proved to be the harshest to pound the U.S. coastline in years, as Harvey, Irma and Maria delivered a one-two-three punch to the Southeastern states and Puerto Rico in late August and September. During that time, WSP’s FEMA project launched over 5,800 individual inspectors working in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“We are projecting to complete just shy of one million housing inspections between September and the end of the year,” Reynolds said.

In the first 60 days after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, WSP inspectors had completed almost 300,000 home inspections. During that same time period, WSP completed well over 350,000 inspections in Florida and Georgia – many conducted while also deploying inspectors to both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

With historically devastating storms such as Hurricane Harvey, which struck South Texas in late August, danger often lurks around every corner, and conditions can dramatically change without warning.

“We were inspecting homes in South Texas while the waters were still rising in some areas,” Reynolds recalled. “Our inspectors would sometimes enter an affected area to assist a home owner, only to find that the waters had quickly risen behind them and there was no way out. Our inspectors found themselves stranded with the disaster survivors until the water receded again.”

WSP inspectors arrived in the Virgin Islands just hours after Hurricane Irma caused its devastation, only to evacuate the area shortly afterwards due to the incoming Hurricane Marie. “Many of our inspectors caught the last evacuation flight to leave the islands,” Reynolds said.

Inspectors in Puerto Rico continue to face extreme challenges on the island, which was decimated by Hurricane Maria.

“Our Puerto Rico inspectors have completed thousands of home inspections in areas with limited access, no power, no easy access to drinking water, and no communication capabilities to transfer their completed work without traveling miles to find minimal internet connectivity,” Reynolds said. “Plus, they are sleeping on decommissioned naval vessels in shared bunking areas because there are no brick-and-mortar sleeping facilities available.”

While conditions are improving in Texas and Florida, the mission in the islands will continue for some time due to limited capabilities to move resources to island communities.

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©2017 CHRISTOPHER RAGAZZO/FEMA

A month after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, debris was still being cleared along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys.

Quarter Century of Service

WSP’s relationship with FEMA dates to 1995, when the firm won its first five-year contract to handle housing inspections. The firm has maintained the contract since then. “We have staff members as well as inspectors that have been with the team since our initial award,” Reynolds said.

During that time, the WSP FEMA project has responded to well over 300 Presidentially declared disaster events and completed more than five million home inspections.

The WSP FEMA project staff is regularly supported by a cadre of part-time inspectors across the U.S., with the capacity to surge beyond that when multiple disasters strike.

During the 2017 hurricane season, the FEMA project reached out to WSP offices throughout the country to provide critical administrative and management help as well, allowing the inspectors to focus on their priority tasks.

Reynolds speaks with pride when he talks about his colleagues who have made great sacrifices to their own personal lives in order to keep the recovery efforts on track.

“Not one person has wavered or not shown up when asked,” he said. “Not one person denied pitching in where they normally would not be needed. From traveling to disaster sites to assisting in deploying new inspectors, to staying late to help review and approve time sheets and expense reports for our many inspectors out on the field. Everyone has been where they were asked to be in order to help rebuild our nation’s communities.”

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©2017 YUISA RIOS/FEMA

Aerial view shows homes that were left roofless in Puerto Rico, due to the strong winds brought by Hurricane Maria in late September. 

‘Desire to Help’

Reynolds traces his own desire to help others back to the early 1980s when he volunteered for his community fire department. “That desire to help has never left me,” he said.

He started working with FEMA in 1987, and since then he has witnessed the misfortune that disasters can bring to individuals and families in all types of events, including earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes like Hugo, Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, and now the events of 2017.

“WSP has provided me with an opportunity to help people in need, all while having one of the largest and most rewarding families one could ever expect to have with my project staff,” Reynolds said. “For all the effort that our team puts into after any disastrous event, it makes it all worthwhile when you see a picture on the news of survivors recovering, or receiving that note from a survivor in appreciation of all we do to help our neighbors. All in all, life is good.”

To learn more about WSP’s work with FEMA and how to apply to become a disaster inspector, visit WSP’s inspection services website.

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Greg Reynolds


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