Thousands of Feds Respond to Irma’s Massive Destruction

An American flag is torn as Hurricane Irma passes through Naples, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 10. An American flag is torn as Hurricane Irma passes through Naples, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 10. David Goldman/AP

As Hurricane Irma plowed through Florida on Sunday, displacing thousands of people and leaving a path of incalculable destruction in its wake, agencies across the federal government mobilized to assess the damage, assist local first responders in search and rescue efforts, and begin mounting a recovery effort that will take months, if not years.

A massive federal response was already taking shape as the deadly storm continued to pound the west coast of the Sunshine State late Sunday afternoon before making a second landfall near Naples as a Category 3 hurricane.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating the federal response in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States, had deployed multiple incident management assistance teams to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  

The teams will allow FEMA to assess the most effective ways to support response and recovery efforts, and distribute needed food, medical supplies and other commodities, much of which was pre-positioned throughout the region.

According to FEMA, federal support includes:

  • The Corporation for National and Community Service has activated more than 160 AmeriCorps members to support FEMA and the American Red Cross in the impacted areas.
  • The Education Department is actively coordinating with schools and other stakeholders in the path of Irma to alleviate the regulatory burden associated with student aid and other assistance.
  • The Energy Department is working with other agencies and power companies to ensure that fuel remains available in the states affected by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. The department coordinated delivery of more than 2 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, out of the 5.3 million so far authorized, and is prepared to take other steps as necessary to ameliorate potential fuel disruptions.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency sent staff to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida to monitor and evaluate the status of Superfund sites in the path of the storm and prioritize sites for response once Irma subsides.
  • The Federal Communications Commission is monitoring communications networks and created a dedicated webpage for daily communications status reports, information, and resources related to the hurricane, including tips for communicating during an emergency.
  • The General Services Administration is using USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov to support federal agency messaging efforts related to hurricane preparedness and relief.
  • The Health and Human Services Department deployed hundreds of personnel, including urban search and rescue teams, and medical teams with the National Disaster Medical System and Public Health Service to support hospitals and other facilities, evacuate dialysis patients and provide other life-saving support and care.
  • The Interior Department deployed hundreds of personnel to support a range of missions, from protecting wildlife to assisting with search and rescue and law enforcement. The U.S. Geological Survey was measuring and monitoring storm damage. The Fish and Wildlife Service already has begun clearing roads and debris in Puerto Rico. Interior is also expediting an advance payment of $223 million for estimated future rum excise tax collections to the U.S. Virgin lslands, to help with hurricane response and recovery.
  • Thousands of National Guard members are providing care and shelter to storm victims and conducting security in the affected areas.
  • The Office of Personnel Management issued guidance and tools to help agencies support workers affected by the storm and facilitate emergency hiring.
  • The State and Defense departments are working together to evacuate U.S. citizens from St. Martin, prioritizing those needing urgent medical care—activities that have been limited by the severe conditions in St. Martin and the approach of Hurricane Jose.
  • The Transportation Department is assessing damage in Puerto Rico.
  • The Transportation Security Administration has pre-positioned 280 screening personnel at various airports for deployment to other impacted airports.
  • The Treasury Department is working to sustain and restore financial sector infrastructure in impacted area and has law enforcement officers on standby to provide support if needed. The Internal Revenue Service also sent personnel and facilities to assist with FEMA’s response efforts and provided taxpayers with guidance for storm preparation.
  • At the Pentagon, Northern Command, Southern Command and Transportation Command were working to assist islands devastated by Irma. The USS Wasp, located near the U.S. Virgin Islands, conducted dozens of medical evacuations for critical care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix. Defense also has search and rescue forces, and vital airlift, planning, communication and medical capabilities on standby. The assets are prepositioned in multiple locations to facilitate timely response to needs identified by FEMA in the affected areas.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers deployed teams to assist with assessments and generator installations in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Florida. As soon as conditions allowed, the Corps was prepared to send experts in power, infrastructure, debris removal, dam safety, and water and wastewater engineering.
  • The Marine Corps sent a forward coordination element from the USS Kearsarge ashore to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, in preparation for potential mission assignments in the coming days. Marine MV-22 Ospreys are being used to provide support requested by FEMA and transport personnel. About 1,000 Marines were aboard naval vessels in response to Hurricane Irma.
  • The Coast Guard is working with federal, state and local partners to conduct damage assessment overflights and support port reconstitution efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Coast Guard was also preparing to provide critical search and rescue, damage assessments and pollution response as soon as it is safe to do so in Florida and elsewhere.
  • The Veterans Affairs department is coordinating with local agencies to reach affected veterans. Medical facilities in Puerto Rico are operational and VA implemented hurricane preparedness plans at mainland facilities within the projected storm path. Medical centers have sufficient food, water, fuel, medical supplies and other critical commodities to ensure uninterrupted patient care, VA said. Staff had contacted home-based primary care, dialysis and other high-risk patients to assess needs and provide supplies. VA is also prepared to deploy staff and mobile medical assets to support veteran patient care and to citizens as part of the National Disaster Medical System.
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