Contractors acting as connective tissue to federal workers in wake of Irma and Harvey

Active-duty military, National Guardsmen, first responders and volunteers are all descending on Florida and other areas to help with the Hurricane Irma efforts, but there’s one other occupation helping the government effort too.

Contractors.

Amid the 16,000 National Guard troops Florida activated, troops from U.S. Northern and Southern Command and Federal Emergency Management Agency employees, contractors are acting as the connective tissue between federal, state and local relief efforts.

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One company deploying with government employees is Engility, which provides military grade communications systems to military and federal units on the ground.

“It’s not that the state, local and federal agencies can’t handle this,” said Jim Appleyard, the program manager for the Deployable Communications Capability System (DCCS).

Instead, contractors provide overarching technologies and logistics that fill in the gaps for government workers.

“We provide a technical service, both programmatic project oriented as well as doing configuration management for their equipment. We do training. We also do service desk or help desk [services]. But we also provide bodies to them when they are lacking personnel or need above and beyond what they called out on normal day-to-day operations,” Appleyard said.

Engility currently has people in Florida and in the Caribbean in the path of Hurricane Irma assisting in information technology.

Those employees embed with federal agencies and at times follow IT equipment to disaster zones to set it up in the area and provide the personnel and configuration of the equipment.

DCCS provides government workers with voice, video and LTE communications.

“It could be a full complement to support from one person to 20 or 30 folks that are out there,” Appleyard said. The technologies “are used just like you would in the office but they are in an austere environment so after Irma, let’s take for example the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some areas in there were devastated and without some communications, so we will support that federal or Guard or local agency with communications after a devastation and provide logistics support back.”

The technology allows federal workers to video conference in a disaster area or to share a map or simply talk on the phone.

Appleyard said many of the contractors on the ground are former military.

“A lot of folks come in with a lot of experience to this kind of organization. Most of the folks [also] have to go through our own internal training to bring them up to what we call a tier two training level. That is someone who really knows everything about every aspect of the equipment, how to set it up, how to train others or talk to somebody over the phone to talk them through how to configure it,” Appleyard said. “A lot of our stuff comes off the heels of their previous experience and then bringing them up to even a further level to know every aspect of how to set up a network ad hoc. Some of my folks are right out of high school, some of them are experienced folks.”

NORTHCOM awarded Engility a $49 million contract in late 2015 to provide and support advanced communications. The award lasts for three years.

Engility is still helping with the efforts in Texas following Hurricane Harvey as well. That hurricane devastated the Houston metropolitan area and has enlisted the services of tens of thousands of troops.