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"Engineer City: Vicksburg home to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research development sites

May 26, 2024   Mississippi Business Journal

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Many people don’t realize that Vicksburg has the largest concentration of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees in the world — engineers, scientists, administrative personnel and technicians.


“For that reason, we like to call Vicksburg ‘Engineer City’ because of the Engineering Research and Development Center on the Vicksburg campus, the USACE Mississippi Valley Division Headquarters (downtown Vicksburg), the USACE Vicksburg District (Clay Street), as well as the U.S. Army 412th Theater Engineer Command Headquarters located next to ERDC,” said ERDC Director Dr. David W. Pittman. “As of the end of fiscal year 2023, ERDC is home to 1,515 engineers and scientists. Those are spread across our laboratories and multiple field sites. Four of ERDC’s seven labs, as well as the ERDC headquarters, are in Vicksburg.”


ERDC has 2,525 full-time employees plus several hundred additional contract employees. Of those full-time employees, 1,183 have advanced degrees, and 449 of those have doctoral degrees. Of its total number of employees, 1,654 have a duty station in Mississippi.


In FY23, ERDC had 221 new hires just in Mississippi alone.


“From military engineering to civil works, geospatial research, environmental sciences and more, ERDC research solves our nation’s toughest challenges,” Pittman said. “We operate more than $1 billion in world-class facilities across the country, and our annual research program also exceeds $2.4 billion.”


ERDC’s history with supercomputers dates back to 1989. The facility is the headquarters for the Department of Defense High-Performance Computing Modernization Program, which delivers an aggregate of 7.8 billion processor hours of computing power each year.


High-performance computers bolster countless research projects, providing access to insight that would otherwise be too costly, dangerous or time-intensive to obtain without supercomputing.


“Because of our supercomputing resources, we have developed world-class cybersecurity capabilities, which help solidify the DoD’s cyber resilience against adversaries. We use computational tools to verify numerical models, elevating accuracy and expanding understanding of complex processes,” Pittman said. “Our supercomputing capabilities also allow our researchers to use data for insights that were impossible to obtain using traditional methods, including the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Since two of the HPCMP’s supercomputing centers are in Mississippi — in Vicksburg and at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County — Mississippi now holds the status of being the eighth-largest supercomputing state in the U.S. Our collective impact on national security in the state of Mississippi, across many partnerships, is simply tremendous.”


Pittman said ERDC invests very heavily in developing employees in leadership training and college degrees (primarily post-graduate).


“We are a very well-educated and highly trained workforce,” Pittman said. “In FY23, ERDC had a $204.5 million direct economic impact in Mississippi. As of December 2023, ERDC contributes $161 million in Mississippi salaries. We are the No. 1 employer in Warren County. In FY23, ERDC had $14.5 million in Mississippi small business partnerships and $29 million in research and development with Mississippi universities and large businesses.”


The history of the facility in Vicksburg dates back to the late 1920s when the USACE Waterways Experiment Station was established as the first federal hydraulics research facility in response to the Great Flood of 1927, one of the greatest natural disasters in American history.


The engineers and scientists at WES helped develop the technologies, tools, materials, models, methods and knowledge needed to significantly reduce the risk of floods, helping to set the standard for river hydraulics, dam and levee construction, coastal engineering and sediment management that are used worldwide to this day.


WES grew over the years to form additional laboratories to address key military engineering and environmental challenges.


“By the 1980s, WES established a supercomputing center as advanced numerical modeling became key to solving some of the great engineering and scientific challenges of the day,” Pittman said. “USACE also established research laboratories in the 1960s in Illinois, New Hampshire and Virginia to address the military and civil works missions of the Corps.”


In 1998, the laboratories in Mississippi, Illinois, New Hampshire and Virginia were consolidated under one command structure to form ERDC.


Pittman said this prescient move resulted in what they now call “The Power of ERDC,” because by working together and sharing the deep knowledge and expertise that was resident in all ERDC labs, they are now able to solve much bigger problems and address challenges than they could ever have attempted separately.




Some ERDC inventions include:


— Modular Guard Tower System 2-Heavy, a technology that offers second-to-none armored protection in an easily transported and assembled package. The system provides a secure platform (either as a standalone tower or integrated into a perimeter wall) from which to monitor activities and respond to imminent threats.


— Induction Hot Mix Asphalt, a rapid method for pothole repairs that works on demand in the field and is specifically used for U.S. fighter jet deployment. This pre-packaged solution costs less to install than a factory-provided hot mix or cold mix and heats 90% faster than traditional heating methods with no need for curing.


— DamBot, a robotic system that allows inspectors to see inside dams without exposing operators to unknown conditions while collecting data that allows for more detailed inspections than currently available.


— HABITATS, the Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment and Transformation System, which helps to remove harmful algal blooms in freshwater.


— Technology for protecting people inside buildings from terrorist blasts. Some of this tech was present at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it can be credited with saving hundreds of lives.


— Modular Protective System, a lightweight barrier that can be rapidly assembled by just two soldiers to protect them from direct-fire weapons like rocket-propelled grenades.


— Validated enclosure door designs, which decrease exposure and reduce traumatic brain injury vulnerability in bunkers across multiple countries.


— Aggressor Vehicle Entry Readiness Technology, AVERT, and Deployable Expedient Traffic Entry Regulator, DETER, portable barrier systems that provide security against vehicle attacks and can be set up in minutes.