To shore up his image in the affected area and across the U.S., President Bush replaced embattled FEMA Director Michael D. Brown, under fire as inexperienced, with R. David Paulison, a 30-year veteran of fire and emergency services. The management shift hardly interrupted the parade of activated task orders or new contracts let by FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers for critical work, even as some critics questioned their contracting approach.

Fast-tracking emergency housing topped FEMA’s list of construction priorities. Hurricane victims are set to be housed in mobile home and trailer communities of 5,000 to 25,000 people for three to five years as cities and towns are rebuilt, says Brad Gair, FEMA’s newly-named housing commander. "Clearly this is going to be the most expensive housing problem we’ve ever engaged in," he says. FEMA on Sept. 9 said it was setting up a new Housing Area Command, which includes the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Corps and the American Red Cross, to coordinate housing operations across the Gulf Coast.

Feds Tap Engineers and Contractors For Post-Katrina Work
Prime Contractor Let by $ CAP
(EST. $ Mil.)
Nature of Contract/Task Order
Fluor Corp. FEMA 100 Manage emergency housing operation in three states and specific sites in Louisiana
Shaw Group FEMA 100 Manage existing housing stock retrofits
Shaw Group Corps 100 New Orleans area dewatering efforts
Bechtel FEMA 100 Manage emergency housing in Mississippi
CH2M Hill FEMA 100 Manage emergency housing in Alabama
Dewberry FEMA* N/A Administrative support, under negotiation
URS Corp. FEMA* 75 Five-year post-disaster mitigation work
KBR Corps 100 New Orleans area dewatering awarded by U.S. Navy to be reimbursed by FEMA
PB-M. Baker FEMA 100 Housing damage assessments
Fluor-DMJM-Earth Tech FEMA 100 Infrastructure damage assessments
Footnote: *additional task orders awarded to URS in joint venture not included here.
Source: FEMA, Corps of Engineers, companies, ENR Reports

FEMA has leased three cruise ships for six months from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines to house primarily elderly and health-risk victims. It also has ordered about 100,000 two-bedroom mobile homes and recreational vehicles from manufacturers nationwide to begin filling housing needs for 300,000 people, says James McIntyre, an agency spokesman in Baton Rouge. It hopes to purchase 200,000 more and open 30,000 homes every two weeks. FEMA has taken delivery of about 12,000 units so far, McIntyre says. Almost 45% of the $51.8-billion in federal hurricane relief aid is earmarked for temporary housing.

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    Clayton Homes Inc., a Maryville, Tenn.-based unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., received an order for 1,800 units to be delivered to Texarkana, Tex., one of four FEMA emergency housing staging areas, says Chris Nicely, a Clayton spokesman. He declined to comment on the contract amount, but Clayton’s two and three-bedroom homes retail for about $25,000 to $35,000.

    The furious pace of deployment has prompted other manufacturers to jump in. Star Fleet Inc., Middlebury, Ind., a transporter of recreational vehicles, will hire up to 100 more drivers in order to deliver 50 units a week to the Selma, Ala., staging area. U.S.R.V. Transport, Wakarusa, Ind., needs another 500 drivers to ship 50 units a day to the stricken areas.

    Manufacturing also must ramp up fast. Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Goshen, Ind., will accelerate opening a new production facility there. With its wholesale inventory already depleted, Dutchmen intends to boost production 20% by the end of September and hire 200 to 250 new employees by January.

    FEMA is clearing out dealer inventories nationwide at a record pace. Al’s Motor Home & Trailer Sales, Rockford, Ill., reports 200 trailer sales to the agency; Burnside RV, Gaylord, Mich., is delivering 350 trailers; and Meyer’s RV Superstore, Hamburg, N.Y., is sending 300 trailers and motorhomes from four upstate New York locations.

    "FEMA is securing 40,000 to 70,000 travel trailers up to 35-ft-long each with A/C and furniture in a cost range of $20,000 or less from dealers across the country," says Clark McEwen, executive director of Austin-based Texas Recreational Vehicle Association. "Most dealers in Texas and across the country are just about cleaned out."

    Taking control of that huge inventory when it arrives in the affected area, finding local homesites, and building in needed infrastructure is a team of existing FEMA mega-contractors with new task orders estimated at up to $100 million each. These mostly are under existing and previously competed emergency response contracts.

    Fluor Corp., Aliso Viejo, Calif., is supervising FEMA’s housing operations in the three-state area and specific work in Louisiana, says spokesman Lee Tashjian (see chart). A spokesman for The Shaw Group, Baton Rouge, would not confirm its work scope but sources say it involves retrofitting existing housing stock, such as apartment buildings. CH2M Hill Cos., Denver, and Bechtel Group Inc., San Francisco, are working in Alabama and Mississippi, respectively.

    Quick Shelter. Emergency housing for evacuees being unloaded at staging site in Texarkana, Texas, and stockpiled in Baton Rouge for eventual setup in three affected states.

    Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker says its work scope is being finalized, as is the contract amount. He says Bechtel is focusing on site identification and construction and maintenance services. Company executives are pledging to donate all of their fees from the original task orders to relief efforts, he adds. Other contractors say they have made six-figure contributions to local relief agencies.

    Finding suitable housing sites is a major challenge, says Fluor’s Tashjian. "We’re looking at everything from existing trailer parks to Boy Scout camps to vacant farmland," he says. Sites must be environmentally suitable and have access to potable water, power and sewage lines. While local officials offer sites, contractors have had to overrule them or scale down the size of projected new communities. A plan for 400 units in Slidell, La., has been downsized to 129 units that will house displaced fire and police officers, says Tashjian.

    Contractors also are being tasked by the Corps to assist with efforts to drain New Orleans. KBR received an dewatering contract worth up to $100 million through a U.S. Navy contract vehicle that FEMA will fully reimburse.

    The emergency contracting is raising some media and congressional criticism of "sole source" awards, with some comparing it to award of Iraq contracts. But industry executives claim the competition was stiff. "Any time you go for what could be a $100-million award, there will be a lot of competition," says Dale Lehman, vice president of URS Corp., San Francisco, which has several FEMA emergency task orders.

    As contractors head to the Gulf, President Bush lightened the government’s financial load by signing a proclamation Sept. 8 that immediately waives Davis-Bacon Act prevailing-wage rules on all federal construction in the region, a step allowed under federal procurement laws in an emergency. Suspending the law "will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals," Bush says.

    The nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors applauded the White House action, but union officials denounced it. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney calls the White House action "unbelievable and outrageous." Building and Construction Trades Dept. President Edward C. Sullivan says that "once again this administration is looking out for corporations eager to profit from a national emergency. Denying fair wages to Gulf State workers is no way to help them get back on their feet."

    Congress also stepped into the post-hurricane construction scene Sept. 9, as Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) introduced legislation that would offer contractors there "good Samaritan" protection from liability lawsuits arising from work they do. The bill is supported by two other Republicans and a Democrat. The federal protections are similar to those obtained by contractors who participated in Ground Zero cleanup work after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Kelly Knott, a government affairs officials for the Associated General Contractors, which has pushed the legislation, says only 21 states offer good Samaritan protections, with only one specifically reference construction.

    eads were rolling at the top of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but that did not keep it from calling up its civilian troops to assess and repair Hurricane Katrina’s mess and help its thousands of victims.