FLOOD NEWS: Guardsmen Using New Tools in This Year's Flood Fight

  • Published
  • By SSGT Amy Wieser Willson
  • North Dakota National Guard
The first week of the 2010 flood fight has come with numerous familiar tools and tasks for the North Dakota National Guard. After spending nearly 100 days on flood duty in 2009, one might expect few new experiences less than a year later. To the contrary, the first five days of flood operations brought three new tools or methods in holding back the rising floodwaters.


Just a few days into flood operations, Guardsmen had the opportunity to work with Big Bags USA Flood Barriers , which are large pleated bags that unfold and are filled with sand. The bags stand 3 feet high with one system stretching 15 feet -- or the equivalent capacity of about 500 sandbags. They're fitted with a wood U-shaped frame, which allows each bag to be connected to the next with just four drywall screws.

"The Big Bag consists of five individual bags, each a cubic yard. They're connected together with our patented U-frame design and open up like an accordion," said Tom Spalj, a Big Bag representative with DRIPS (Disaster Relief & Innovative Protection Systems). "They're about 60 to 70 pounds -- depending on the water weight of the wood -- apiece, but they're so quick, they open up to 15 feet in less than 10 seconds."

The bags can then be filled with sand using a skid-steer loader, front-end loader or other similar equipment. On Thursday, North Dakota Guardsmen used a skid steer to fill a line of bags that, along with a clay dike, are protecting the Timberline neighborhood in Fargo.

While the technology is new to the United States -- only one other city has used it previously -- it's been used in Asia and Europe for about 15 years, with the design originating in Germany.


On Friday, Guardsmen filled 50 giant sandbags and secured them with cables at the North Dakota Air National Guard base in Fargo. Similar to bags placed aerially on breaches during last year's flood fight, this year brings a slightly bigger size -- a little more than the 1-ton bags used last year -- and a faster way to fill them. Last year, a skid-steer loader with bucket attachment scooped sand to fill the bags. This year, Guardsmen used a cement mixer truck. When filled with sand, the cement truck could quickly and cleanly load the bags when they were held under the chute by the tines on a forklift.

"These bags will actually hold about 3,000 pounds but we can't fill them that full. We're getting somewhere between 2,000, 2,500 pounds, somewhere in there," said Master Sgt. Gary Koslofsky, of the 119th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

After the bags were filled, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew from the Minnesota National Guard , which is assisting North Dakota through an Emergency Management Assistance Contract, or EMAC, practiced sling-loading and hoisting the bags.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Todd Sudheimer, the team is ready to not only place the giant sandbags, but to use their rescue hoist to evacuate people, if needed.

"We haul people around, we haul equipment around, I guess anything we're asked to do," he said.


Guardsmen worked with a more innovative tool -- another one never before seen in Fargo -- on Wednesday when they installed more than 200 feet of AquaFence. Like the Big Bag barriers, the AquaFence concept comes from overseas. Manufactured in Norway, it consists of plywood panels that unfold, are secured open with aluminum poles and are then connected to the conjoining panel with a section of PVC.

"It's not a lot of back-breaking work like chucking sandbags," said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Terry, of Argusville, N.D., the noncommissioned officer in charge of the AquaFence assembly project.

Marius Hansen, managing director for AquaFence, said the product is reusable and has been tested up to 100 times.

"I think they're trying to figure out something for the next 10 to 12 years," said Master Sgt. Terry L. Babler of the City of Fargo.

The AquaFence was rented by the city to see how it performed on the stretch of river just north of NP Avenue in Fargo.

Despite the opportunities a number of Guardsmen have had to get first-hand experience with flood control products new to the area, many are doing familiar work. About 660,000 hours were dedicated to flood duty last year by North Dakota Guardsmen, during which time they sandbagged, provided traffic control points, patrolled dikes and served on quick reaction force teams ready to help in an emergency. Those roles are successfully being filled once again during this flood.