Fifth U.S. Army Supports Rita Relief Operations
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 24, 2005 Joint Task Force Rita has been established here to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency as they support state and local authorities in response to Hurricane Rita, which came ashore this morning packing 120 mph winds near the southeastern tip of Texas.
Established by 5th U.S. Army, the task force is commanded by Lt. Gen. Robert T. Clark, commander of 5th Army.
JTF Rita is synchronizing Defense Department efforts with those of FEMA and the Texas government. The task force provides immediate support to enhance the relief efforts of federal, state, and local governments while mitigating the suffering of those citizens impacted by Hurricane Rita, officials said.
Defense Department assets are utilized in disaster scenarios when local and state assets are overwhelmed or exhausted, 5th U.S. Army officials said. Defense Department assistance must be requested by the primary federal agency, in this case, FEMA, and approved by the Secretary of Defense.
The Defense Department provides its support on a reimbursable basis in accordance with the Robert T. Stafford Act. Immediately after a disaster, local jurisdictions respond using their resources and notify state response elements if further assistance is needed on the state level. The state then reviews the scenario and dispatches state resources.
The state then informs the FEMA regional office of actions taken, and the governor activates the state's emergency plan, proclaims a state of emergency, and requests a damage assessment to determine if there is a need for a presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency.
If regional resources are overwhelmed, the Department of Homeland Security may deploy a national emergency response team, such as has happened with Hurricane Rita.
FEMA determines exactly what federal support is needed and determines the cost and the state's cost share, if any. The emergency support function primary agency determines which agency can accomplish the mission most efficiently and at least cost.
The Department of Defense provides support to FEMA and all emergency support function agencies. The defense coordinating officer coordinates all Defense Department support, and the defense coordinating element supports the coordinating officer in the operations section. All DoD-related taskings are validated by the coordinating officer.
Currently, officials here are still assessing Rita's damage and receiving reports from throughout southeastern Texas. Relief supplies and communication equipment have already begun to flow to the most damaged areas, Fort Sam officials said.
Houston area officials have announced that more than half a million homes do not have power and that some municipalities are without water and sewage systems. Houston Mayor Bill White urged residents not to return to the city, at a press conference.
"It is critical that people that are providing relief ... be able to get back into the areas that were voluntarily and involuntarily evacuated," White said. "People need to hold back so those emergency service providers can get in."
Residents of Galveston, Texas, are being asked not to return, as well, until the damage is assessed.
Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison told reporters in a press conference that Rita's damage was "not as severe as we thought it would be" and that "urban search and rescue teams are already on the ground."
Additionally, Paulison said, 438 medical personnel are in Texas and 500 in Louisiana, staged to treat any injuries.
Paulison said U.S. Coast Guard helicopters will be airborne as soon as residual storm winds calm. But, he added, the area is "still a very, very dangerous place to be."