Logistically speaking, FEMA, relief agencies are ready for Florence’s aftermath

 Volunteers for the American Red Cross unload a truck of water ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence. The Red Cross and other agencies will be tasked with helping get relief supplies to those in need.  (Photo: American Red Cross)

Volunteers for the American Red Cross unload a truck of water ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence. The Red Cross and other agencies will be tasked with helping get relief supplies to those in need. (Photo: American Red Cross)

Despite weakening, Hurricane Florence was still a strong Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall today in North Carolina and is expected to inflict heavy damage in the Carolinas as it drifts south into South Carolina and stalls, dumping up to 40 inches of rain in some places over the next several days.

FEMA has been working since early in the week to arrange resources to respond as soon as it is safe to do so, and said at a media briefing today that it stands ready to help.

“We have what we need staged throughout the area both as far as manpower and teams as well as commodities, resources, and communications,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery at FEMA. “We’ve also heavily engaged with our partners in the private sector.”

The agency has been staging Incident Management Assistance teams at state emergency operations centers in the Carolinas, Virginia and Washington D.C. and has positioned Urban Search and Rescue teams and U.S. Coast Guard resources in the area as well.

In addition, FEMA said it has stationed a Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) unit in North Carolina and two MERS units in South Carolina with both secure and non-secure voice, video and information services to support communications needs with additional communications resources in Alabama and Tennessee for support as needed.

On the logistics end, of which trucking will play a huge role once the storm subsides and relief supplies can be shipped in, FEMA is standing by ready to help, noting that the first line of support in these areas will come from states and local and voluntary agencies. FEMA said it will provide resources as needed and requested.

As supplies start to move in, FEMA officials lifted a little of the veil on how that will be handled. Officials said that previous disasters have helped FEMA fine-tune its approach and one change is to move anticipated relief supplies into the area ahead of the storm rather than waiting for an official state request, as was previously done.

“We send teams that serve as a logistical backbone,” a FEMA official explained. “They are folks to receive supplies. Many of those supplies come in the form of semi trailers that we leave attached to the {tractor] so we can move them very quickly.”

Millions of liters of water, meals and blankets are at the ready should they be needed, FEMA maintains. The supplies, along with cots and other resources, are being staged at incident support bases, distribution centers, and pre-positioning sites in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia.

FEMA also works closely with other organizations, which provide logistical support. NOAA is one those. Neil Jacobs, assistant secretary of commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction with NOAA, said his agency will provide response teams as needed, with one of their key roles being to help reopen ports.

“In addition to forecast and decision support from the national weather service, NOAA deploys assets to support recovery and response,” he said. “NOAA’s navigation response teams are prestaging to assist in reopening ports as soon as possible.”

The Department of Defense will also play a critical role in ensuring supplies reach those in need, and the DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency has set up mobile distribution centers in the region and is prepared to provide and distribute more than 281,000 gallons of fuel for federal response. It has also pre-staged 60 generators and transformers to support critical infrastructure and is prepared to provide shelf stable meals and bottled water in coordination with FEMA.

Ray Alexander, chief of Interagency and International Services for the Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps along with the Department of Defense has deployed over 9,700 personnel for the storm along with aircraft and high-water vehicles to assist as needed. One of the primary jobs will be to provide temporary power, but the Corps will also help get infrastructure reopened.

“We are prepared to do infrastructure assessment at critical facilities in collaboration with EPA, assessments on waste water will be conducted, and we are prepared to conduct other missions as needed such as debris [removal] and temporary housing,” Alexander said.

Once the brunt of the storm passes in the next 24 to 48 hours, efforts will turn to recovery. In that vein, FEMA relies heavily on other agencies and non-profit partners for this task, led by the National Association of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD).

The organization is made up of hundreds of organizations around the country, many of them faith-based, that assist in times of need. The American Red Cross is a member.

Greg Forrester, president & CEO, said the group will help coordinate with area relief organizations and with FEMA to ensure relief supplies are delivered. He praised FEMA’s response to date and reminded people looking to donate that they should not be donating clothes and other hard goods at this time.

“We ask that you don’t do clothing drives or any of those kinds of things at this time. We will let you know once we know what the needs are in the field,” he said. “What we do know is that commodities have been staged really well with FEMA and our state emergency partners.”

Forrester said that anyone looking to donate or volunteer can go to the group’s website at www.nvoad.org to make a donation or register to volunteer. The best donations right now, Forrester said, is cash.

 

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