A QA Haiku: There is Quality. There is Assurance too. Both together here. | Article | The United States Army

At any given time in West Maui, more than 50 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers professionals are working to ensure the highest quality of work its contractors perform.

Quality assurance inspectors and supervisors accompany contracted debris cleanup crews throughout Lahaina, Hawaii, impacted by wildfires on Aug. 8, 2023. These team members are the conduit between the Corps, contractors and their workers.

“Contractors, QA supervisors, and QA inspectors actively coordinate behind the scenes to ensure that QAs are present where the work is being performed,” said Tyler Hutton, quality assurance supervisor from Walla Walla District. “The job goes beyond observation and recording/reporting anything unusual.”

Personnel from across the USACE enterprise volunteer for the QA position during deployment. These volunteers have a deep desire to support those impacted by disasters. The program is designed to recruit individuals capable of deploying to support various mission needs. During disasters, QAs are needed to provide oversight on missions such as temporary roofing or debris removal.

“We have personnel from real estate, cost analysts, engineers and park rangers. I’m a hydro-power plant operator,” said Hutton. “We are here to help and do the best job we can for those in need.”

Once volunteers arrive to support the Maui wildfire recovery missions, they are cycled through several in-processing stations to ensure they have what they need to perform in the field. While many arrive well equipped with required work and safety gear, logistics must issue rehired annuitants most of what they will need on-site.

“Even with an added day or two for rehired annuitants to get up to speed, reaching out to the RA cadre gives us a pool of experienced professionals to fill in where needed,” said Col. Eric Swenson, recovery field office commander. “They are a force multiplier for the Corps, especially when supporting multiple disasters simultaneously.”

After a full day of technical and cultural training to gain an understanding of their roles, new technology, and Hawaiian culture, incoming team members are paired with experienced QAs for on-the-job training.

“In the field, they go out with a more experienced team member who will teach them about working with the survey app being used, reporting and more,” said Jerry Stoute, QA zone manager and rehired annuitant. “Most QAs are ready to go out on their own after the 2nd or 3rd day. Others may take a day or so longer, but they have a great support option to fall back on which is other QAs or the QA supervisors.”

Just as QA team members come from diverse backgrounds, they will oversee various debris removal operations. Some will work with commercial cleanup teams, others with residential crews.

“There are QAs assigned to crews removing trees, cars and even marine vessels,” said Hutton.

According to Hutton, working on a disaster is not for everyone. QAs are in the field most of their 12 hours every day for the term of their deployment. The weather and atmosphere can be physically and emotionally challenging.

“Particularly here in Maui, beyond the weather and working conditions, you regularly interact with residents and even work crew members that were directly affected by the wildfires,” said Hutton. “Somedays, you need to take a few moments from the mission and listen and be supportive to the people that have lost much, if not everything.”

According to the RFO commander, QAs are like Park Rangers at USACE recreation projects in the sense that they are our face to the people of Lahaina. They are the tip of the spear, teaming with task forces crewed by local workers side by side with residents returning to their properties to begin the rebuilding process.

“QAs are more than my eyes and ears on the job sites. They are ambassadors for the Corps and the federal response family,” said Swenson.

“I want them to stop and listen to a resident or co-worker’s story. I want them to be compassionate and hug a person who is hurting if that’s what is needed. It’s not in the job description, but it’s the right thing to do. The people of Maui should be able to see a Corps shirt and know we are doing our best for them all day, every day.”