Military Better Prepared Than Ever for Disaster Relief, Official Says
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2008 The Defense Department and U.S. military are better prepared than ever to aid disaster-relief efforts, and have improved measures for tracking military families affected by catastrophe, a top Pentagon official said yesterday.
Among other services, department entities are poised to assist with evacuations, emergency transportation and search-and-rescue missions as the nation braces for the hurricane season that starts June 1, Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs, said.
“Today, the Department of Defense -- active, reserve and National Guard -- is better prepared to assist civil authorities than at any other time in our nation's history,” McHale said at a Hurricane Awareness Day news conference at the Federal Emergency Management Agency here.
McHale said the department understands its role in catastrophic relief and has worked with FEMA to put in place a wide range of missions to support a national response. In the event of disaster, the Pentagon is prepared to coordinate FEMA logistics on military bases, to deploy emergency communications rapidly, and to deliver ready-made meals, water and power generators.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff praised the increased role the Defense Department has assumed over recent years.
“[The people of the Defense Department] have been phenomenal partners over the last couple of years and have become really fully integrated with our planning system and our approach in a way that was not the case previously,” he said.
The Pentagon has more closely integrated its planning with the National Guard Bureau, U.S. Northern Command, and state adjutants general, McHale said. Guardsmen are ready to deploy to Gulf Coast and East Coast states -- where hurricanes are most likely to hit -- and military forces are prepared to protect constitutional rights and provide law enforcement if either system breaks down in the wake of a disaster.
“Our men and women in military uniform are well prepared to provide substantial life-saving assistance to FEMA,” McHale said. “And with a sense of urgency, we will do so if called upon during the 2008 hurricane season.”
The Defense Department also is working with U.S. Northern Command to implement a system to track and account for troops and military families evacuated or displaced as a result of natural or man-made calamity. The effort has been spurred on by the chaos that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, McHale said.
“A number of days passed before we had full accountability for all military personnel and their family members,” McHale said of the post-Katrina confusion. “[With the new system,] we will know who's safe and perhaps who is in jeopardy.”