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Troops ready to assist with Hurricane Katrina

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 29, 2005) – More than 5,000 National Guard troops have been activated in four states to assist with recovery operations as 140-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Katrina strike the Gulf Coast.

The Louisiana National Guard has been assisting state police with the evacuation of New Orleans and has helped establish 122 shelters across the state.

“We’re doing it all,” said Lt. Col. Pete Snyder, Louisiana National Guard public affairs officer. “We’ve mobilized nearly 3,600 National Guard to assist in the hurricane effort.”

Snyder predicted that the shelters in Louisiana will have enough water, cots and Meals Ready to Eat for those forced from their homes by the storm. Guard troops are providing security and screening for New Orleans residents seeking shelter at the Superdome, and Snyder said the Louisiana Guard was also standing by with helicopter support, if necessary.

Corps of Engineers preps pumps

The Army Corps of Engineers is anticipating potential requirements to pump water out of New Orleans, much of which is below sea level and protected by a system of dikes, levees and and pumps. Corps officials said they have begun discussions with partners to preposition assets in southern Louisiana to help with the water removal.

The Corps of Engineers also has teams that are trained and ready to move into impacted areas with necessary support like ice, water, temporary power, housing and roofing, and debris removal, officials said.

First Army activates CAT

First U.S. Army activated its 24-hour Crisis Action Team Aug. 28 and sent defense coordinating elements to three states. These elements help U.S. Northern Command coordinate DoD support to civil authorities as requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

First Army coordinates federal military assistance for disaster relief operations east of the Mississippi River, and for Hurricane Katrina, deployed three defense coordinating officers and their staffs to Florida, Mississippi and Alabama.

A federal state of emergency was declared by the president after Hurricane Katrina struck near Miami Friday and then moved out into the Gulf of Mexico, gathering strength from the warm waters.

Florida activates 780 troops

About 780 National Guard troops were called to state active duty in Florida to help distribute ice and water and to man Logistic Support Sites in Miami and Homestead, Fla. At least six Florida residents were reportedly killed in the storm and about half a million were without electric power.

Florida was poised to begin standing down its activated troops today, officials said, and to help other Gulf states hit by the hurricane with logistics such as cots.

Mississippi stages at Shelby

Mississippi activated 853 National Guard troops and has staged them at Camp Shelby, Miss., for the recovery operation. The Soldiers are ready to perform debris removal, security and logistical support, officials said.

Alabama troops help sandbag

Alabama has activated about 160 National Guard troops who are helping sandbag critical coastal areas and have prepositioned generators and trucks for the hurricane recovery operation.

The Alabama National Guard activated its Emergency Operations Center in Mobile with support from the 711th Signal Battalion and the 226th Area Support Group, state officials said. They said Army and Air National Guard troops are also monitoring the hurricane and emergency response operations from the Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Montgomery.

Army support requested thru FEMA

“First Army and our coordinating elements provide support in accordance with the National Response Plan,” said Don Reed, Military Support Division chief, First U.S. Army. “DoD assets are provided only upon the request of FEMA and the states involved.”

Each of the three First Army DCOs are colonels who have been trained in disaster relief coordination, officials said. They said in addition to DCOs, there are Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers in every state who help the DCO coordinate the military’s efforts and ensure a well-synchronized, rapid response.

“I can’t emphasize enough the value of our DoD team and our liaison officers,” said Col. Christian de Graff, operations officer, First U.S. Army. “They bring joint perspectives and enable us to make quicker decisions on what assets are nearby or available.”

First Army plans disaster assistance

In addition to deploying coordination teams and liaison officers, much of First Army’s work prior to the storm’s landfall involves anticipating and planning for what assets may be required by the states and FEMA.

“Right now, First Army is leaning forward and planning for any number of needs the states may have once this hurricane hits,” said Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, commanding general, First U.S. Army. “I have been in contact with each of the state’s adjutant generals and assured them that First Army is ready to help.”

“One of the things we learned last year with the series of hurricanes that passed through Florida, was the need for satellite communications,” said Col. James Hickey, chief of staff, First U.S. Army. “This storm will likely take out some key communications nodes and cell phones and land lines may not work for some time.”

Based on that assessment, First Army is identifying satellite phones and other military communications assets that do not rely on local infrastructure. Food, water and ice are also key resources and the military is planning to help with quick distribution of those supplies in the aftermath of the storm.

Other possible requirements include helicopter support for evacuation, emergency supplies and damage assessments; medical personnel, supplies and equipment to include sanitation expertise; transportation units with the capability to ford high water; watercraft assets for coastal areas; and construction, bridging and utility engineer units.

Camp Shelby in storm's path?

Another task for First Army is to identify DoD assets that are in the path of the storm, assess potential damage and develop response plans.

One such installation is Camp Shelby, Miss., near Hattiesburg. First Army has 1,600 National Guard Soldiers there on federal active duty training for future deployment to Iraq. Those Soldiers and the installation cadre and support personnel are prepared for one of two outcomes: one, assist the state of Mississippi or Louisiana with disaster response, or two, evacuate the base and move to Fort Benning if it looks as though the hurricane will hit Camp Shelby as a major storm.

First Army has also offered shelter at Camp Shelby for families of permanent-party personnel who may be living in at-risk areas.

One of the first DoD assets requested by FEMA is the use of federal installations as mobilization sites and operational staging areas. So far, FEMA has requested the use of four bases in the First Army area of responsibility: Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi, Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Duke Field in Florida and Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.

“While state and local officials and FEMA are clearly in the forefront for response efforts, the First Army and DoD team are ready to respond and assist in any way we can,” said Honoré. “We will work extremely hard to help our fellow Americans impacted by this disaster.”

First U.S. Army is also working closely with its counterpart in the west, Fifth U.S. Army, because Louisiana falls within its area of responsibility, officials said.

(Editor’s note: First U.S. Army and Corps of Engineers news releases were augmented by telephonic reports to Army News Service correspondents to obtain information for this report.)

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