Fort Sam Houston Serves as FEMA Forward Base
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sep. 24, 2005 Six days ago the Army Medical Department Center and School and Fort Sam Houston here began to mobilize personnel and resources in preparation for Hurricane Rita. The first truck carrying relief supplies arrived about 48 hours later. Since then, more than 135 have followed.
"This is where everything is being staged," Phil Reidinger, a spokesman for Fort Sam Houston, said. "The vehicles have been flowing in here constantly since then."
Fort Sam Houston ordinarily is where U.S. Army medical personnel train, but the small post located in the middle of San Antonio has been transformed in a matter of days into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's forward staging area. It is a hub of activity for Hurricane Rita relief operations.
"As these leave we get a constant resupply," Reidinger said as refrigerator trucks rumbled behind him. The post can accommodate at least 300 trucks loaded with tarps, ice, generators, water, military rations and other humanitarian supplies.
On Sept. 23, a 40-truck convoy left Fort Sam Houston carrying relief supplies under police escort to Houston, where Hurricane Rita was forecasted to hit. The storm made landfall just east of Sabine Pass, in southeastern Texas, at approximately 3:30 a.m. today, packing winds of 120 mph.
Twenty more trucks left Fort Sam Houston headed to Beaumont today, 10 of them are loaded with relief aid and 10 more loaded with critical command-and-control equipment that will enable emergency workers to communicate and coordinate their response.
The trucks have license plates from around the country. Drivers are provided with a place to shower, eat and buy personal items. Most sleep in the cabs of their trucks. Reidinger compared the operation to a military maneuver. "We give them what they need just like you would an Army headquarters in the field," Reidinger said.
As the trucks arrive at the post, Fort Sam Houston military police inspect the truck cargo and then escort the truck to a control center, where the load is "revalidated." Texas Department of Public Safety officers then escort convoys to their relief points.
Fort Sam Houston has more than 3,000 acres to accommodate relief personnel. But the post also is readily accessible from many interstates and it is in close proximity to the airport and air force bases. "What makes Fort Sam Houston so efficient for this operation is our location," Reidinger said. "Our location makes us ideal."
In addition, Fort Sam Houston also has a 29,000-acre maneuver area at Camp Bullis, 24 miles away, in which relief personnel, supplies and military evacuees can be housed.
Approximately 100 personnel from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Sam Houston, and the U.S. Forestry Service are working at the forward staging area.