Emergency Manager of the Year|Stewart’s been there after ice, hurricanes, 9/11

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 14, 2010

A 21-year veteran of emergency planning has been recognized for aiding in rescue efforts in disasters across the country.

Michael J. Stewart, emergency management specialist with the Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is the Corps’ 2009 Emergency Manager of the Year.

He was nominated by David Sills, the chief of the emergency management division, and presented the award by Maj. Gen. Bo Temple, deputy chief of engineers, at the December Remedial Action Plan meeting.

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“That’s an award that’s hard to get,” Stewart said. “I was at the meeting as a recorder for the documentation team. I was sitting there doing my work and, all of sudden, I heard my name.”

“Mike was an easy choice to send forward as the Mississippi Valley Division’s Emergency Manager for 2008,” Sills said. “He displayed exceptional leadership abilities as the Corps’ team leader for response and recovery activities in Louisiana associated with Hurricane Gustav.”

As an emergency management specialist, Stewart’s area of responsibility includes planning for and aiding in disaster response through training. After Gustav hit in 2008, he helped with debris management in Cameron and Vermillion parishes. His work also aids the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Through our flood control and coastal emergency program, we respond to floods, coastal storms — and we provide sandbags and pumps,” Stewart said.

“Here in the Mississippi Valley Division, we take care of the whole Mississippi River, from Canada all the way down to the Gulf and all of its tributaries,” he continued. “If we have an event that is outside our authority, it gets into more of a FEMA-type event.”

Stewart also aided in disaster response during the ice storm of the Midwest in 2009, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City — the worst he’s seen.

“It happened on Tuesday, and we walked right into it on Thursday,” he said. “That was something I’ll never forget. They brought us in by boat from Edison, N.J. We walked from lower Manhattan to 26 Federal Plaza, (to) FEMA headquarters. Anytime you took a step, dust would come from under your feet. But it wasn’t dust, it was actually asbestos that was blown from out of the buildings, which were built in the 1970s. We could see through the streets and I saw a firefighter. He looked up and said, ‘I’m glad you’re here.’”

He and a team of six worked there for three days before moving to another site.

“There’s nothing like getting into a group that comes together for a common goal,” Stewart said. “It’s a family that has come together to take care of business.”

Born in Hobbs, N.M., Stewart grew up in Vicksburg and attended Hinds Community College. He began his career at Waterways Experiment Station in 1973 as an engineering aide, testing new Army vehicles. He worked for the Vicksburg District as a draftsman and hydrologic technician before joining the MVD in 1988.

“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

After joining emergency management, he advanced to the level of team leader in charge of coordinating all USACE and FEMA support at a disaster field office. He is one of 17 current USACE employees to hold the title.

He and his wife, Mary, live in Vicksburg, and they have two grown children, Kimberly and John Michael.

Contact Manivanh Chanprasith at mchan@vicksburgpost.com