FEMA and the Pentagon have teams and supplies in place in the southeastern U.S. to respond to the storm if necessary.
Multiple federal agencies have been preparing for the possibility that a major hurricane could wreak havoc along the East Coast over the next few days.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has response teams and supplies in place in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina as Hurricane Matthew travels from Haiti to the Bahamas, possibly reaching the southeastern United States as a Category 3 storm by Thursday. All four states have declared states of emergency in advance of the storm, which could have a significant impact on the region even if it doesn’t hit directly.
FEMA, as well as officials from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard, briefed President Obama on Wednesday about the federal government’s preparations to help any communities that end up affected by Hurricane Matthew. In a press briefing afterward, Obama thanked “the folks at the National Weather Service and the FEMA team for the outstanding work that they’re doing here.”
Obama said that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who is a native Floridian and former director of the state’s emergency management center, “is intimately familiar with the dangers of hurricanes, and it just so happens that he’s got family in areas that could be affected by the storm. So this is personal for him. You know he’s going to be working around the clock to make sure that we are preventing any potential loss of life and trying to minimize as much as possible the impacts of this storm.”
National Guard personnel are gearing up in the southeastern states most at risk. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday evacuated coastal communities in the state, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott has announced some mandatory evacuations as well as several closures in South Florida. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, located in central Florida, will be closed Thursday and Friday, according to the website.
The Defense Department also is preparing for Matthew, said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook on Tuesday during a briefing with reporters. The U.S. Southern Command is standing up a joint task force, Cook said, in case of requests for support, and the Navy is also considering deploying ships if necessary.
In August, the Office of Personnel Management reminded agencies of the workforce flexibilities they have at their disposal the event of an emergency, including weather emergencies. Employees affected by hurricanes may be entitled to advance pay, evacuation stipends, excused absences and other benefits as laid out in a 2008 memorandum. If the president declares an emergency, federal employees can donate their vacation days to colleagues adversely affected by the storms. Agencies also have authority to fill certain critical jobs quickly in case of emergency.
Federal and state officials on Tuesday and Wednesday stressed the need for people in potentially affected areas to listen to their local and state leaders, and to prepare now for a serious storm, even if they aren’t under an evacuation order. Obama urged people to visit ready.gov for disaster preparation guidance.
"This is something to take seriously,” Obama said during his visit to FEMA headquarters in Washington Wednesday morning. “We hope for the best, but we want to prepare for the worst.”