Department of Defense Press Briefing by Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite in the Pentagon Briefing Room on Relief Efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite; Lieutenant Colonel Nina Hill, Office of the Chief Of Public Affairs, U.S. Army


LIEUTENANT COLONEL NINA HILL: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today. I am Lieutenant Colonel Nina Hill from the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. Today's press conference will focus on the United States Corps of Engineers, and the relief efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Today we'll -- we have Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite. He's the U.S. Army chief of engineers, and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. General Semonite will give a brief opening statement, and then we'll open up the floor for questions. I'd ask that you please state your name and your affiliate, and then also limit yourself one question and one follow-up until we've gotten around the room, and then we'll continue to field questions afterwards. Ladies and gentlemen, Lieutenant General Todd Semonite.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL TODD T. SEMONITE: Well, thanks, Nina, for that introduction, and as Nina said, I am -- I am the chief of engineers in the Army, and I'm the commanding general of the Corps of Engineers. I think it's important to point out that I really work under three different authorities. And we talk about these disasters here. I'm really (inaudible). Our -- our guys are working in all three of them.

So we do an awful lot of work for the Department of Defense, OK, as the Corps of Engineers. We also have our specific authorities in the Civil Works Mission, which is rivers, and harbors, and -- and a lot of other missions there, and we'll talk about that, and one of the dams we're working.

And then we also have a very, very specific mission for FEMA. As you know, there are several emergency support functions for FEMA. We provide that function, which is the engineering function, emergency support function number three.

I really can talk about any one of the last four storms. We've been going all out for the last six weeks. Probably about 2,000 people throughout the Corps of Engineers, with a lot of functions throughout Texas, with Harvey; of course, with Irma in Florida. Irma, when it hit the Virgin Islands, and then when Maria came through, it really hit both the Virgin Islands and hit Puerto Rico. The other one was Nate that came through, and came up through Mississippi, and we did not have a lot of involvement about it.

But when you think about the ability of the Department of Defense and FEMA to be able to handle four major storms in six weeks, I think that's something that is a real compliment to both of the agencies, because you were able to not only take care of the storm you're working right now, but to be able to look forward at that next storm, and to be able to predict and have the right teams to be able to react.

If there was two messages I would want to tell you that would clearly be something that I learned in all these -- I've been on the ground several times in all these different operations. I think it's the word passion and urgency. And I'll tell you that, first of all, from the people that I see on the ground. I mean, I went into the backside of -- of Harvey, when we saw people down there flooded out in Buffalo Bayou, and I looked in their eyes, and I saw the challenge of, how could they get their lives back together? And they definitely had a passion to try to continue to get back to a way of normal, but they also wanted an urgency from the federal government.

I think probably what hit me the most -- last week I was in Puerto Rico. We're going to do -- we're doing blue roofs. I'll talk about that in a minute. And I went down to a house. We had to work down -- our way down through the debris to get down into Maurice's house. Maurice was an E-6 in the Army, and he's since got out. And he was in there, trying to cook breakfast in his house, but he had no roof. And so we had a contractor crew that came up, and put pulp plywood on top of that, a blue roof to cover over his area. And when Maurice came out and talked to my guys, and the contracts that were working that, again, same thing. He had a passion to continue to try to be -- get back to normal. But he also had an urgency.

And this is something that, as I look at the people that have been affected there, it's where we're all in.

Whatever we can do, we're continuing to go as fast as we possibly can. The other end of that dimension, though, which is just as important is the passion and the urgency I see here in Washington D.C., to continue to be able to try to get these people back to normal.

I was in the White House two hours ago, and I saw that from the members of the Cabinet who are fully committed to be able to continue, commit the resources needed to be able to do what we need to do. Several times I've been in the Department of Defense, OSD, the secretaries, the deputies, continuing to be able to push us along with NORTHCOM, the Defense Logistics Agency, to be able to step up where it need be to be able to ask, what else can we possibly do to go forward?

And then on several of these storms, General Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, 5:00 on for many, many nights in a row had the entire Army staff in there to try to figure out how can we as the Army continue to step up to do what we need to do to be able to help these people out there.

And I'll talk a little bit about more of the support that we've gotten from DOA and the JFLCC team, Lieutenant Colonel -- Lieutenant General Jeff Buchanan and his team down on the ground.

So when we come into these disasters, we normally do five major functions. And we've got an infographic on the side here, and I can certainly answer questions about any of them. I'm going to end with electricity, because that's probably what's most important. We basically have done these five functions in all four of the big areas.

But the ones that I just kind of want to highlight them, first of all. Ports, we do have authorities under our Civil Works Authority, almost every one of these disasters took out several of the ports, sometimes 14 or 15 ports.

You've got to be able to get logistics into these areas to get supplies back in. So whether it was Texas, Florida, Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, how do we come in the day after the storm, survey those storms -- survey those ports and be able to get dredges and barges in there to be able to continue to get materials in and out.

Working hand by hand with the Coast Guard who is instrumental in doing that. But a significant port mission, we can certainly talk about during questions if you want.

Next big mission is debris. And so an awful lot of trees that are down. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is where we probably saw the biggest debris. So we come in with big contractors that we already have on contract ahead of time, and then we go back out and we immediately start picking up debris on the sides of the roads and putting them in large trucks.

We take it to a special area, and we're able to get it out of the roads so people have mobility. It's not just the vegetation debris, it's also the debris that's in people's houses. So we actually sort it. We have places for refrigerators. We have places for old mattresses, hazardous waste.

Our contractors -- we basically, we tell everybody to put it out on the side of the road. The contractor comes by, he picks up that debris, and we get it out of the lane again, so people can get back to normal.

I think another big mission which is really picking up traction in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is what we call the blue roof mission. If you have a house and actually has to have 50 percent of the house that is still in feasible manner there, then we will come back in and we will put a blue tarp over the roof. And we have learned that if we can put the tarp on in a couple of weeks or a month, then we're able to really get the -- continue to be able to protect that house.

What we found in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is that a lot of times there was a lot of structural damage to that particular house. We had to come in and almost rebuild part of the roof structure to be able to get the tarp back up and over.

And you can see on the numbers here on some of the things we've done. I think in Florida -- I don't have Florida on this particular infographic, but 7,000 blue roofs in Florida. So the contractor will go right on down the street and take out the blue tarps.

And this is just not a regular tarp. This is an engineer that comes in and actually stretches that over, be able to nail it back up under your gutters, and continue to be able to do what we need to do to be able to make things happen.

The -- the last big mission I really want to talk about is there are a lot of areas where we have dams and reservoirs and infrastructure in here. So we go back in and we assess that infrastructure. We have programs that if a police station gets wiped out, we can rebuild a temporary building.

We can go back in and help get a school up and running. And we also have challenges with the civil works infrastructure. The dam that is down in Puerto Rico is one that you're probably tracking. This is a (inaudible) in government dams that basically had -- an awful lot of water went into it. The water went over the top of the dam, the spillway, and then that spillway basically failed.

This is very similar to the dam in Oroville, and what happened is so much water coming down that spillway that had not come down in many, many years, that the spillway started to break up and crumble. And about the bottom 50 percent of that spillway basically washed away. The water continued to come over for about 20 days.

The challenge is, we had a lot of, lot of rain and there was no other way to get that water back out. So we did two big things. First of all, came in with a lot of Jersey barriers, these are things like you would protect the -- if you were trying to, you know, fence off something. We put in over 500 Jersey barriers into that area and then what we call these super big sandbags, ones that we deliver from helicopters.

This is where the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau is invaluable, whether it was the Marines dropping them in, the National Guard. Helicopters, day after day, putting in an awful lot of sandbags -- and you can see on the numbers there -- but just a massive amount of capability. If we didn't continue to put that level of material in, then the water coming down the spillway would have actually eroded the dam. And we had risk of the dam failing and a lot of people living downstream from the dam. So we had to stabilize that particular spillway so that it wouldn't erode.

And then, the other big thing is we brought a lot of pumps in to be able to -- and they are now pumping, so that if there is a storm in the next several months, how do we pump that water out so that we don't continue to have that?

That whole structure's going to have to be rebuilt. That's something that Congress is going to have to decide, what is the -- the capability to be able to do that? But that is a significant challenge on the -- on the spillway.

So I think the thing you're probably most interested in is electricity. We've had electrical challenges in Texas and in Florida but they were quickly taken care of by the Governors of those two states and a lot of -- lot of capability that came into those particular states.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is a completely different paradigm. People have asked me in the last several weeks, you know, why don't you do in Puerto Rico what you could have done in Florida? Because it is an island and it is very, very hard to just drive hundreds of pole trucks and hundreds of material down into Virgin Islands and down into Puerto Rico.

So our strategy here is four-fold. And I'm going to talk about four lines of effort, and then we can get into details on any one of those.

The first thing is temporary generators. We are putting right now, probably about 400 to 500 temporary generators in Puerto Rico. Normally we'd do 40 to 50. They -- and they're in there about a week or two. And then we come back and we take them back out because the grid is back up.

This is going to be a massive, long-term rebuild -- of rebuilding the grid in Puerto Rico. So what we are doing is to go all out and put as many generators in as we can, mainly in -- in public facilities. The key places is -- that we got a list from the Governor, all the Mayors donated to that list. And the list has got about 428 different requirements on it today. I think I got about 10 more today that come in.

And so, we know exactly what the priorities of the governors are of where should we have electricity. Hospitals are on the top of the list. Then you water facilities, wastewater facilities.

What about things like cell phone tower areas? How do we continue to take care of, you know, government facilities? Schools were a big thing -- to be able to get the schools up and running. So how do you continue to put those generators in?

These are not a generator like you would buy at a great big, you know, convenience store downtown. This is a generator that's pulled behind an 18-wheeler. Some of these are 30 and 40 feet long -- major generation capability to go back in.

As of today, we got 148 of those installed. We've got about another 280 on hand. And we've got about another 130 coming in. This is where there is no lack of generators. And when I need extra help and we need extra help, the Defense Logistics Agency and FEMA have come forward to be able to continue to fly in, barge in generators to be able to help make that happen.

We have a 911 generator crew. I have a battalion; that's the 249th Engineer Battalion. We have it in the Army, and that battalion basically has got a team so that 3 o'clock in the morning about a weekend ago we had a clinic on one of the islands in Vieques that went down; a generator went down on there.

We put two generators on the barge. Our soldiers took that generator over, installed it, and got that back up and running by the end of the day, because they had that level of agility to be able to get that generator back in.

So, how long are those generators going to be there? They're going to be there until the grid gets back up. The goal is to get 100 percent of power back to everybody in Puerto Rico. It's just that some of these generators could be there for months and months on end.

There is another area, and we're trying to look at where are there problems in the system? There are places in Puerto Rico where there were a hospitals that had a generator; it's just it's an old generator.

So there was actually running now what we've done is we've come in, with a contractor to service those generators to be able to make sure they're getting the oil changed, they're getting the fuel they need, and if, in fact we find an older generator that we do not think that's going be able to carry the load we'll take that generator back out and we'll put a FEMA generator in to be able to make sure that we can continue to have reliable power to those critical facilities.

We can't do houses. We're mainly looking at big, big large facilities to keep them going. So, that's really the temporary generator, and that's kind of this line of effort one on this four-different prong approach.

Line of effort two is really generation. And, this is where we really have our work cut out for us in the long terms. Generation is power plants. We need about 2,500 megawatts of power through (inaudible) to be able to restore the power back up to where it was at the beginning of the storm.

Today, right now, we've got about 21.6 percent of that up. The (inaudible) technical numbers, about 579 megawatts that's online, and we continue to put two or three more percent back up and running.

The challenge we have -- and I'll refer to the chart over here a little bit -- most of the electricity -- slide this over a little bit closer here -- most of the big power plants are down in the south, and this is where they're built. And so there's an awful lot of generation capability down in the south. Most of the load is up in the north.

And to be specific, there are seven large power plants that normally run off of fossil fuel. There's about seven power plants that run off of solar or wind, and then there's 21 power plants that actually are hydro, big dams that make electricity with water. But the majority of that power is down on this south sector, and again, the load is up in San Juan.

So the challenge is how do you continue to get that electricity from south and north? Even if in fact all of the power plants are up and running, we would have a generation shortfall. So about a week and a half ago, we cut a contract to a large company to come back in and place a temporary power plant in San Juan.

That arrived a week ago. It came up a gigantic barge, and that power plant is being built today, and will be up by the end of October. That will put another 50 megawatts into the grid in what I will call this island of San Juan. It's an island of power because that's where these power plants are, and they're basically around the parameter of the island.

The other problem we have is what’s the reliability of the generation that's out there? All we're going to do is to be able to get that generation up to 100 percent.

But the question is, is that good enough and how long will that stay. So this is a report, 271 pages long, that was done by an independent firm back in 2016. It talks about the -- how frail this network is, how frail these generators are. The average age of those seven fossil fuel power plants is 44 years old.

So this is a very, very old system. There's actually one of the power plants up here in San Juan that was actually shut down seven weeks before the storm because it had massive maintenance challenges.

So even (inaudible)

All we're going to do is to be able to get it up to that given level to have 100 percent of power. And this is where the -- the bigger question is, what's the long-term plan for Puerto Rico? And I'm going to talk about that when I talk about the end of the four.

So we talked about temporary power. We talked about generation. Now I want to talk about transmission. The number one goal right now of what the Corps is doing is to be able to move this electricity that's in the south up to the north.

So this is really a grid of transmission lines. Transmission lines are very, very tall towers, about 75 feet high, and they go all throughout the -- they go all throughout Puerto Rico. The blue ones are actually what's called the 230KV. The red ones are a little bit smaller.

But again, very, very large power lines. Most of the transmission is -- is in not bad shape, but there's an awful lot of requirements to continue to be able to get some of these lines up and running.

We probably need three lines, from the south to the north across the mountain, to be able to continue to put enough electricity up in San Juan. Today we have one, so right now the crews are out working the second and third line to be able to continue to move that up.

Once we connect south to north, it really is kind of like a network. It's like a table with four legs. It's much, much more sturdy because you're able to back feed those power plants from different sizes. So that's really what the big focus is, to get the transmission up and running.

We probably need about 338 towers. These are these 75-foot towers. So the team's building this, and to be able to continue to fly them back in. And then we need an awful a lot of connectors and cable, as well. But the whole goal is to get the transmission up and running.

And I want to stress here right up front, is that we're partners side by side with not only the governor's office, but the Puerto Rico Power Authority, PREPA. And we've got to be able to continue to understand it's there system. We're working side by side to understand what the priorities are. But PREPA's doing an awful lot of work. We've got some of our soldiers in there from one of our battalions in. And then we've got a lot of contractors coming in.

The Corps of Engineers just awarded a very, very large contract worth $240 million, with a capacity to go over $1 billion to the (inaudible) company. They're in, mobilizing right now. They're bringing pole trucks in, people, a lot of capability in to be able to get to a total of 435 crews, is what we're shooting for between PREPA and our contractors.

We also just awarded another large contract from the state of Florida, to be able to continue to work, to be able to get this transmission up and running. So, that's the third big line of effort.

But even once we get the transmission running throughout all of Puerto Rico, the problem's going to be, how do you get that down to the people? And that's what we call distribution. So this is when you have houses with power poles, the poles and the lines, to be able to continue to connect those.

And this is where the real challenge is. We need 62,000 poles to be able to get this up and running. And we haven't done 100 percent assessment on all of this, but based on what we assessed right now with several different flights over this network and talking to our teammates in PREPA, that was 62,000 poles.

We're probably going to need about 6,500 miles of wire. Just imagine 6,500 miles of electrical wire. You say, why can't this be done faster? The average trained crew on a flat football field can probably put two poles in a day.

You don't have a flat football field. You've got a road with downed trees in it, and when you go up where to replace that line, all these telephone poles -- I mean all these power poles are leaning over. All the old cable's still on it.

So you've got to strip all that back out and completely rebuild that grid. So it's going to take a lot of time for 435 crews to be able to get all those poles up and running and to get them in ground.

This is a massive logistics challenge. And so we're bringing in about $150 million right now of cable and poles. This is coming with a lot of lot of support from the FEMA team and DLA, Defense Logistics Agency. And we've got basically large, large logistics bases. We'll put one in the east, the north, the south and the west of the area (to ?) receive those.

And the challenge is going to be, how do you get them -- get them up in the top of some of those mountains to be able to take care -- about that? You're going to ask, "What about time?"

So this is the challenge. There's some of these lines that we know relatively well, can -- we can drive and see them. The crews have assessed them and we know where we're at.

The governor has made a milestone of trying to get 30 percent of the Puerto Rican load up by the end of October, and then 50 percent by the end of November. I personally think those are stretch goals, but we're very, very committed to trying to meet where the governor's at, and all of our guys are going all out with every single thing we can to meet the governor's goals.

The challenge is going to be, how do you get past 50 percent? And I personally think that it's going to go into January and February to get the majority of them back up and running.

The challenge is going to be -- there's what I call the last mile. Up on one of these mountains I flew over last week, there's a couple houses up there that are fed by one line that comes up the side of a cliff, and then it goes down about two or three miles, and there's two houses on the end.

It's going to take a long time to get those. I've been saying, for a couple of weeks, it could take almost up to a year. I'd like to think we can get that done by the end of May, but there are going to be some people on Puerto Rico in very, very remote locations that are going to need power for a long, long time.

And so this is where it goes back to this whole idea about passion and urgency. Every single thing we can possibly do -- the federal government, FEMA, the Department of Defense is doing to step up -- and we're trying to continue to shorten those timelines.

I certainly hope that I'm wrong and that we can go an awful lot faster. But what I don't think it is smart to do is to give false hope to those people that are in very, very remote, austere locations that the power is going to be on next week, because, in some of these, it's going to be a hard build.

The last thing I'll end with is, the most significantly damaged area is really this east end. The distribution out here is almost 100 percent down. So that's where -- while we have other areas that we can -- come up and running -- we're seeing power on now, down in the southwest area. I talked about San Juan. That's up and running. But how do we continue to be able to push that power all the way down to the last house?

And I'll just end with this fact that it is -- it's where our 2,000 people on the ground, Jeff Buchanan's -- his thousands of people that are down there -- every single day, how do we work as a federal family to continue to be able to reach out, understand the requirement, think out of the box, be innovative and no rest until everybody in Puerto Rico gets 100 percent power?

So, with that, I'll pause and we can go into details on anything you want to.

LTC. HILL: Thank you, General. We'll open the floor for questions.

Q: All right. Phil Stewart from Reuters.

You said you just came out of a Cabinet meeting. Can you talk about what resources you were asking for, what commitments you got? And then, also, Senator Rubio yesterday was quite critical of the Corps and the lack of contracts being distributed. Could you speak a bit about where you are with contracting?

GEN. SEMONITE: Yeah, sure.

So the contracts have been awarded. We awarded the big one on Monday. I'm not sure Senator Rubio knew that at the time. And that was the one that's -- the floor contract.

Again, the total on that -- the cap is about 1.3 but I'm not limited to that. We can go higher, if we need to, OK? And then the power secure one, we awarded on Wednesday. So we basically have got enough capacity inbound to be able to take care of that.

The Cabinet meeting was really focused on me giving them an update, and it was almost the same exact update I gave you. My mission is to get the response. So how do we continue to respond in accordance with the Stafford Act to basically put back the grid as it was, pre-storm?

Here's the -- here's the thing that's different, though. There's a lot of the grid that wasn't built to code. A lot of the grid was damaged. So you talk about this report here -- some of these lines didn't have enough poles, they had too much span between the cables. Some of the poles were cracked by other storms. Some of the channels out there -- there's even some substations that we think were in flooded areas.

When we go back in, we're going to do this as the Corps of Engineers would do. We're going to do it to standard, we're going to do it to code and we're going to continue to bring it up so that, it's the -- a system that would be very, very similar to before the storm.

I think the big thing that the Cabinet is working on right now, and I'm not going to -- I don't have a whole lot of insight as to where the Cabinet's going to go with Congress on this, but what is the long-term plan? And that's where -- I talked about passion. A lot of people in that room today continue to be able to try to talk about, where is America going to go, and how are they going to figure how to take care of the people of Puerto Rico? And I'm going to leave that up to the Cabinet and the White House, and when they tell me what to do, then I will certainly go back in and change that specification.

Q: Just to -- just to follow up on that, I mean, it seems just, you know, briefing, and you kind of hinted at it just now, that you think that the -- I mean, even though you're working right now to restore the old system, you seem to be suggesting the old system wasn't really that good. Is the...

GEN. SEMONITE: I'm not suggesting. I'm telling you. The old system was terrible.

Q: So does it make sense to spend millions, and millions, and millions of dollars to restore a system that -- that was terrible?

GEN. SEMONITE: The biggest problem with the old system was generation, really. It was really the power plants. It was these things that are in purple around here that are years and years old, and they actually need an awful lot of -- they have a lot of neglect, and they have a lot of backlogged maintenance.

This system that we're putting in is mainly transmission and distribution. All of those people living around Puerto Rico, they deserve a line down to their house. So we're putting in that system that they're going to need to have. The question really comes back to the investment it's going to need on -- on generation. And do you go back -- again, a good example. There's seven fossil fuel, but as I talked about, seven solar and wind, and 21 hydro. So where does Puerto Rico or the federal government invest? Do you invest in more wind and solar? There's a lot of advantages to wind and solar. Do you invest in more hydro? I think that's some of the question. How do you solve a long-term deficiency in generation maintenance by figuring out how to augment that -- that generation capability?

Q: What does the Corps recommend?

GEN. SEMONITE: Right now, we are not to a point to recommend. I've not been in those other power plants. I been to -- all we know is that we have a gap in San Juan. So the Corps is putting 50 megawatts in right there. We're working very closely with the Department of Energy. They're the real experts when it comes to the grid, and I think they're the ones that we're going to lean on very carefully to figure out what would be the right long-term solution? Hi.

Q: Hi, sir. Stephanie Ramos with ABC News. So it's been a month now since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico. As you mentioned, 20 percent, about 20 percent of the island does have power, and that number has fluctuated. We understand there are challenges on the island to -- to get that power restored, but how does the Corps prepare before the storm hit? Was there some sort of strategy already in place when -- when we knew Hurricane Maria was going to hit Puerto Rico?

GEN. SEMONITE: So of the five missions that I kind of laid out -- our primary mission, when it comes to electricity, is the temporary power. So a lot of times, we go in before a storm. We go to the hospitals, and we write down, how much does that hospital need? We'll go to the police station. We'll go to the fire station. We'll have contracts on the shelf.

So this was there, all before. So the contracts were all ready before the storm. We basically were ready to activate that contractor, and fly generators in. The Corps put 127 people into Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands before the storm; rode through the Category 5 storm -- rode through the storm inside a secure building. So we were able to come right back out the next day. So when it came to things like blue roofs, temporary generators and all the rest, we had that.

I think the thing that neither FEMA, nor Puerto Rico, nor us understood was the severity of the storm, and the magnitude of the destruction when it came to the power grid. So this is where we did not have a contract on the shelf, to be able to say, "Rebuild the entire grid." And so it takes a while to do a contract in accordance with all the rules we have, and this is where our contracting guys have been very, very fast, and very streamlined.

I think the other thing to point out at is that wherever we've had any kind of a challenge, whether it's the FEMA leadership that's given us the top cover, the White House, to say, continue to be able to drive on. We're going to be legal. We're going to be smart. We're going to do things right. But we're going to be very, very aggressive on how fast we can do them.

Let's go back real quick. So in the United States, what happens is there are agreements between all the states. So if Florida has a significant requirement, this is a very complicated thing we can get into. But it's a different agreement between power companies and states, and those agreements and these big power authorities who would very easily be driving 300 or 400 or 500 trucks down to that state before the storm, but getting them all ready to go. That's the challenge, is that there were not agreements between those power authorities in Puerto Rico here, so this is where it's a little bit different dynamic than what you would see in the rest of the 48 continental states.

Yes, sir?

Q: Could you please explain some of these figures on the chart over here? Like the $922 million in Puerto Rico, what does that refer to? Is that the total spent thus far? Same thing ...

GEN. SEMONITE: So I'll just walk you down real quick. So this is again talking about the Corps of Engineers, not talking about the defense -- the defense missions here. Basically, we have gotten 20 -- these are Puerto Rico on the left; Virgin Islands on the right. About a total of 50 missions across the board. We have been tasked to do 922, so that's not all obligated. This is what people have ...

Q: Just the Corps?

GEN. SEMONITE: Just the Corps. Just the Corps.

Q: Do you have a ballpark figure for how much has been spent thus far by everybody?

GEN. SEMONITE: No, I don't. No. I -- I know right now that we have been asked by FEMA to do somewhere in the $1.2-billion range. And again, I've got a lot of other people in the other ones. But I think today, again, somewhere around 800 or 900 that are out on the ground.

This talks about the blue roofs. We think we might need up around 5,000. We're at 642 today, so that's about 14 percent. You'll see we're a little bit higher in Puerto Rico, but the number's a little bit lower. When it comes to temporary power, I talked about generators.

We think again, somewhere around 428. That number does change. Same thing, we're doing a little bit better here in the Virgin Islands on getting those generators out.

The debris management, it looks like we haven't done much, but that's only because we have 6.2 million cubic yards.

That's a -- I think it's 350 Olympic-sized swimming pools that we're going to need to be able to move and to be able to get that out of people's front yards and off the roads.

And then mainly these are some of the assessments that we've done back in some of the facilities -- 40 percent hospitals, 63 percent airports, 25 percent water. We've done some schools and then emergency response facilities. And then this is kind of the grid, which I've already talked through.

So -- and this is available every day. Certainly would offer you, if you want to go online and find this. FEMA has the same kind of infographic, so you can pull FEMA's and I know DOD does, as well.

Q: General, you said -- you said earlier, you just let a contractor -- Floor ? $240 million?

GEN. SEMONITE: Yes, sir.

Q: OK. And so that would be on top of the $922, so you're up over a billion.

GEN. SEMONITE: No, that's really -- well, that -- that $240 -- well, the initial task order is $240 of that $922. It's got the capacity to go to $1.3; it's in the $922.

Q: OK, but you said it might go to $1.3?

GEN. SEMONITE: It might. And this is where, again -- and I'll be very, very honest with you, FEMA has not tied our hands. They said if the mission needs to be done, and we need to take care of people getting back in order, then this is the money you're allowed to spend. And I have not been told no on what I feel is a valid requirement that we need to spend.

Q: And just one other, please?

GEN. SEMONITE: That's OK, go ahead.

Q: Just one other please, and I don't know if this is in your lane. But, some of the reports from the field about the hospitals, and perhaps that the few hospitals that the U.S. has put in, and the Comfort are being underutilized.

For instance, 250 beds in the comfort and there was one report last night that only 29 of the beds were occupied. Can you explain ...

GEN. SEMONITE: No, sir, I can't -- I can't answer that. I mean, I've got enough worried about electricity. So I mean I'm sure DOD can give you an answer on that one, and certainly be able to refer back to them on that.

Other questions? Yes, ma'am?

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the differences from the Vieques to the main island in terms of the risks to restore the electricity?

GEN. SEMONITE: So, right now, from a temporary power thing, we think we're OK. It's about the same. We've got -- generators are out there. We have not seen quite as much damage out there, and I think that's also fed by an underwater line. And so the main question is make sure we've got a test -- test the validity of that line. Is that up and running? Because it's out here on the -- on the west, the question is -- I mean on the east, this is where a lot of that damage was, so we're going to work our way out there, and it goes back to -- it's just the priorities.

So I can certainly follow up and find out where we're at on that. I have not been to Vieques yet to see exactly where we're at on it, but it's one of the things where it's all these priorities and as much as there's things that are important, everybody deserves the same right to power. So wherever you're living on there, you're just as high on the list, and we're going to be just as committed to getting out there and taking care of you.

Q: Can you give me a sense of how much personnel is out in Vieques?

GEN. SEMONITE: I -- I -- I don't know that. I think I've got about a team of about five to 10 out there, but it's mainly doing assessments, and then they call forward our guys if they need to do be able to bring them back out from Puerto Rico.

When we went out the other day, it was about a three hour ferry to bring generators back and forth, and then if there's a requirement, I'll just keep our people out there on the -- on the island.

Q: Am I oversimplifying then, to assume that Vieques could see a slower, sort of return to normalcy in terms of electricity, given the focus on the main island?

GEN. SEMONITE: I think we have enough contractors to continue to be able to bring everybody up about the same. We don't want to focus on just one community or another. You know, how do you somehow be able to make? -- I mean, it really goes back to bringing everybody back to the same place. And so we'll take a look at it. If I think that for some reason we aren't putting enough capability out there, then we'll continue to change and be flexible.

And I think that's the point. We want a flexible plan. If the governor comes back in and gives us different priorities or I get different priorities from FEMA tomorrow, we're able to adapt. I don't want to do work twice, but we've got to be able to continue to be flexible here as to how we can step up and be able to respond.

LTC HILL: We have time for one more question.

GEN. SEMONITE: Yes, sir?

Q: Sir, thank you for your candor, in saying how the system was terrible to begin with, and that you're restoring it.

You say that there's going to be a next level after that. Is the Corps going to be responsible for that or is this private enterprise, that will have to assume the next step, or is that a government decision?

GEN. SEMONITE: I think it's too early to tell. The Corps mainly works at C-O-R-E functions. We don't normally come in and rebuild an entire grid, so this is something where the Department of Energy, if -- if they have that capability to do that through commercial capability, they certainly can. We're able to be able to respond, knowing, if needed, we'll certainly step up. It depends on what FEMA and DOD needs us to do.

Right now, we are all trying to go all out to get to 100 percent power, and I'll be honest, we've got a lot of work to do in the next several months. What happens after that is really going to go back to, you know, what the president and Congress are going to do as to a long-term rebuild.

Q: And if I may, sorry -- we both work at the same organization (inaudible).

If I could, going back to her earlier question about what could have been done before...

GEN. SEMONITE: Yes.

Q: ... as a lesson learned, is it possible that in the future, you may preposition or leave behind some of these 500 generators -- large generators -- in place to facilitate, you know, coming hurricane seasons in the next decade.

GEN. SEMONITE: So, I mean, we learned an awful lot from Sandy. We learned a lot from Matthew. We continue to have teams that we've built. We change our doctrine all the time. One of the things that gets to be tough, though, is having an awful lot of equipment, especially equipment that needs maintenance sitting in (inaudible) yards.

So the question is, if you don't know where the storm is going to come -- I mean, this could very easily have hit anywhere else. Think about how, like Matthew, a lot of times bounced all the way up the side. So every state can't have 500 generators sitting in the yard.

I think what we're able to do now is, I'm able to -- we're able to stay ahead of getting the people in first to put the generators in and we're able to fly the generators in fast enough. So the generator -- I have nobody waiting for generators, I guess that's what I'm saying. The system is agile enough to be able to get generators in fast enough. FEMA does have stockages of them so they're able to get them in very, very quick.

But I think this is one of the things we're looking at. I've got a senior leader meeting in a couple months where we're going to do a big AAR, an after-action review, to say "What could we have learned here? Could we have done blue roofs faster? What else could we have done with water or something else?" And I think that's what all of the federal government has to do. You can't be satisfied with where we're at.

I'm not satisfied where we're at right now. I'd love to be able to say we could bring these timelines and make them a lot quicker. So how could we figure out -- do you -- do you prepo more? Do you have more contracts on the shelf? Do you build more capability out there? Every one of these storms is different. And I think the uniqueness of both the deterioration of the grid in Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico -- and Virgin Islands has got just as many challenges on electricity as Puerto Rico does, as well as the fact that it's a remote site with a massive logistics requirement, is what makes this one so hard.

Q: Thank you. Do you have any final thoughts?

GEN. SEMONITE: I do. So listen, I certainly want to invite you to come to Puerto Rico, or to Virgin Islands, or to Florida, and see the Corps of Engineers. Or I'm sure Department of Defense, to be able to come around. We certainly bring reporters in and to be able to show you this. It's -- it's great to be able to talk about this in Washington, D.C. But until you're on the ground and you're in the back of a Humvee or you're in the back of a vehicle and you see soldiers and airmen and service members out doing the great job, you see our civilians, you see the FEMA employees, it's hard to understand this idea of the passion and the urgency.

So I would just encourage you to come ride with us and we'll certainly put you in a vehicle and show you how generators go in. But if there's anything that we could do to do this faster, we would be doing it. And this is where it's not because we aren't -- we don't have the support, it's because this is a massive, massive rebuild that is going to take months. And we're going all out, and I'm getting all the help that I need from the federal government.

Hey, thanks an awful lot.

Q: Can I just clarify one thing?

GEN. SEMONITE: Yeah, sure.

Q: You mentioned earlier that the generators aren't being distributed to, let's say, individuals on the island that are still in the dark. Your -- is that right? Folks are still in the dark right now, living in the challenging areas of the island, they're not getting generators?

GEN. SEMONITE: There's a time where the grid will be up before we'll be able to distribute generators to 3.4 million houses. Just think about that, OK? So I'm just -- that's about how many people are there. So at some point, if need be, and it's longer than that, then we will continue to keep putting generators in. We're never going to turn the temporary generators off.

But I don't -- I don't see a need to go to every single individual house and putting a generator in there, because I think we're hoping that we'll get the grid up and running as fast as we possibly can. And it's just something that normally -- I mean, just the magnitude of the residents and the houses out there -- because then you've got to be able to -- I mean, right now we're going to every single generator, we're checking in on, you know, does it have fuel? Does it have all, you know, the right filters, all the kind of -- the service requirements?

So right now the main focus of what FEMA and the Corps delivers is generators through some type of a public facility, OK? We could go to large housing areas if there are some. We did this in some of the other storms. If you have 20 families in a large public housing area, we can certainly go to that. We're going to keep working our way down the list. And the question is, we'll just keep going until the grid comes back up.

And I think you'll find that the grid will be up before we're able to get down to the list where we're doing individual houses. OK.

LTC. HILL: Thank you, this ends the press conference.