Rapid emergency response to major disaster events that rocked our nation is not new to Weston, and 2017 is no exception.
We have a proud history of being among the first on the front lines bringing relief in the aftermath of historic, tragic, unforgettable national events, such as the September 11 World Trade Center attacks (performed asbestos sampling); the Capitol Hill Anthrax Attack (performed decontamination monitoring and sampling for biological pathogens); and Tropical Storm Allison flooding in Houston (performed environmental sampling and analysis and supported household hazardous waste collection, handling and disposal).
In 2003, Weston supported multiple federal agencies for the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster (performed screening of recovered space shuttle material for hazardous constituents and tracking, managing, and mapping of recovered shuttle material) followed by 2005’s Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Gustav (performed search and rescue operations, rapid needs assessments; water, sediment, soil, and air sampling; aerial reconnaissance of affected areas; tank and drum collection; household hazardous waste and firearm collection; landfill capacity design; and drinking water facility assessments). Collectively, Weston has supplied over 1.5 million hours of effort on disaster recovery projects—the equivalent of 750 people working full-time for a year.
In the past three months, Weston has responded to three more natural disasters: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the California Wildfires. In total, we mobilized over 200 personnel in response to these recent disasters who were also supported by strong home office backing, providing logistical support.
Hurricane Harvey Response – In August 2017, just prior to landfall of Hurricane Harvey, Weston provided operational and data management personnel in pre-deployment positions with a team of personnel tracking the storm’s likely path and potential impacts. Hurricane Harvey then dumped unprecedented amounts of rainfall in the Houston metro area and throughout southeast Texas. It is on record as the costliest tropical cyclone, with damages estimated at $180B. Shortly after landfall, Weston deployed personnel throughout the affected area managing response efforts in three branches of operations: Corpus Christi, Houston, and Beaumont/Port Arthur. Activities performed comprised rapid needs assessments primarily via aerial reconnaissance, management and mapping of reconnaissance data, air monitoring, sample collection and analysis, orphan container collection support and tracking, situation report and incident action planning support. Our people’s steadfast support continued to mid-November; at the peak, Weston and our teaming partners deployed approximately 50 personnel.
Hurricane Irma and Maria Response – In early September, while the response to Hurricane Harvey was ongoing, Weston was asked to initiate preparations for Hurricane Irma response and the potential impacts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Weston mobilized personnel to the islands to support response efforts. However, the arrival of Hurricane Maria caused us to discontinue our efforts, and seek shelter from the pending landfall on the islands. At its strongest point Hurricane Maria had sustained winds of 175 mph, caused extensive damage to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix on September 20th. Weston re-mobilized personnel to the islands as soon as flights began operating, hotels were available, and the environment was safe for our responders. Since early in October through present day, we have had 60 to 80 responders involved in recovery operations supporting various environmental/ human health and safety missions, including drinking water sampling and analysis; wastewater treatment system evaluations; and fixed facility assessments; U.S. Coast Guard sunken vessel operations; and hazardous waste/oil spill and/or release evaluations.
California Wildfire Response – As our response efforts began to ramp down in Texas and reach a consistent level in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, we were then tasked to respond to the California Wildfires. First in Sonoma and Napa, then Mendocino and Lake Counties, Weston responders are helping develop cutting-edge data management systems while providing hands-on support for parcel surveys, household hazardous waste collection, high-hazard waste collection, asbestos surveys, and air monitoring and sampling during asbestos abatements. Additionally, we established and are staffing a Community Hotline that residents can call to obtain information about the ongoing response. Staffing levels have ranged from 80 to 100 over the last month.
The Holidays and Final Thoughts – Many response personnel did demobilize and return home this Thanksgiving; however, approximately 75 of our people were unable to do so. Emerging as somewhat of a Weston tradition, going back to past projects like the Hurricane Katrina response in 2005 when responders were unable to go home in time for Thanksgiving, Weston provided Thanksgiving meals for our responders. 2017 marked a notable milestone: we coordinated not one meal, but Thanksgiving meals at six different locations across the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and California. Rather than being able to spend their normal Thanksgiving with family, our responders spent Thanksgiving with their “Weston” family.
As this busy year comes to a close, we want to thank all of our dedicated responders for their personal sacrifices and professionalism that they delivered for our clients, and, we can’t forget, those impacted so severely by these disasters. Our team is expecting a busy first quarter in 2018 with continued response efforts in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and northern California; we also anticipate setting up a new response operation related to the ongoing southern California wildfires. These teams and all who support them through our highly connected network are what the 60-year strong Weston culture is all about.