Assistant Chief, Program and Project Management Division, USACE
In some of the darkest hours for Mississippi and the nation, the Gulf Coast was struggling to recover from the most devastating natural disaster ever to strike the country, Hurricane Katrina. With the wind and waves of Katrina destroying huge swaths of the Coast, it is hard to imagine how much debris was left that had to be removed before rebuilding could begin.
One of the government groups providing critical assessments of the damage along with emergency repairs was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Patricia R. Hemphill, assistant chief, program and project management division, USACE, Vicksburg, played a key role by managing the processing operations for emergency responders in support of Hurricane Katrina recovery. From Aug. 2005 through June 2006 she led the team responsible for reception, staging and integration of all responders supporting the USACE with Task Force Hope Mississippi.
“Our team ensured that all responders were equipped and trained,” said Hemphill, a licensed engineer who graduated from Mississippi State University.
Her professional areas of expertise include leadershipcoaching and strategic planning. Over the recovery period more than 4,000 people were processed through Hemphill’s office. In addition to employees from elsewhere in the country, USACE also hired people on the Coast to help with the work, giving them temporary jobs to help monitor the debris removal.
“Our role here in Mississippi was one of facilitating the debris removal so the rebuilding could begin,” Hemphill said. “Early on we had some people do initial assistance clearing roads. But primarily we didn’t do the heavy lifting. We were the managers and overseers of contractors hired by FEMA to do the debris removal. My role was one of preparing responders who came down to work. I oversaw all the training, the orientation of Corps employees coming in from all over the country processed through Vicksburg. We made sure they had housing and knew where to go and what contacts to make once they got to the Coast.”
The USACE did bridge and road inspections in conjunction with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and also assisted with inspections of public housing, public facilities, schools, sewage treatment and water plants. The USACE also had people assisting with the Blue Roofs temporary roofing program.
This wasn’t Hemphill’s first experience with responding to a major national disaster. She also assisted with recovery after Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew.
“I’ve seem some pretty devastating storms come through,” Hemphill said.
She initially got interested in a career in a field that is not traditional for women because of a cooperative education experience with the USACE in high school. A mentor suggested she pursue a degree in engineering. At the time Hemphill went to engineering school, she was one of only a handful of women and the only African American woman in the engineering school. She says she was treated just like anyone else, and thrived in the program because of her long interest in math and science.
“I love problem solving and hands-on experiences,” Hemphill said. “I have always loved math.”
Hemphill is a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government Executive Education Program, the Army Management Staff College and the Sustaining Base Leadership Management program. She has received the Superior Civilian Service Award from the Department of the Army in 2006 and has also received the Commander’s Award.
Hemphill, who is actively involved in her church and the local chamber of commerce, feels her most valuable personal skill is her willingness to share her time and talents to help others achieve their goals.
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