Plans Go Into High Gear as Gustav Approaches
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2008 Tropical Storm Gustav is expected to intensify over the weekend and strike the U.S. Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane by the morning of Sept. 2, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said today.
Local, state and federal agencies are coordinating responses now, well in advance of the approach of the storm, officials said at a FEMA news conference.
Retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., the FEMA deputy, said the agency is expecting tropical-storm-force winds to reach the United States on Sept. 1. He said he expects the hurricane to hit the coast the following morning with a 15-to-30-foot storm surge.
“It’ll be the largest storm to approach the Gulf Coast and the United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” he said. But, he added, there is a huge difference between the levels of preparedness between the 2005 hurricane season and today.
“We just finished a two-hour video teleconference … with state and local officials to talk about the preparations we have in place in advance of Hurricane Gustav,” he said. “There have been phenomenal improvements at the local level, the state level and the federal level that we will benefit from.”
All levels of government have made changes as a result of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. “We’re all working hand in hand, and have been,” Johnson said.
All potentially affected states will begin evacuations tomorrow, he said, with some states doing medical evacuations today. “Contraflows” – the reversal of highway lanes to help evacuation – will begin on the morning of Aug. 31. “All states are talking to each other, planning together, sharing resources and working together as a team,” Johnson said.
In the Gulf States, 65,000 National Guard troops are standing by to respond to the hurricane. Officials said the Guardsmen have much better and much more equipment than they did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Army Corps of Engineers already is working with FEMA to issue contracts for such things as debris management, water and temporary power for critical facilities. The Corps als is deploying planning response teams and a battalion that can handle massive power-generation needs.
The Corps also is responsible for flood protection in and around New Orleans.
“Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the New Orleans Hurricane Damage Reduction System is stronger than it was pre-Katrina,” said Corps spokesman Mike Irwin during the news conference. Many flood walls have been reinforced, and emergency measures are in place should a levee fail. Still, other levees and flood protection projects are not yet completed.
U.S. Northern Command is closely monitoring the storm and Tropical Storm Hanna, said Army Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, the command’s operations director. “We will continue to respond for Department of Defense support in anticipation of landfall,” the general said during the news conference.
The command has activated four defense coordinating elements at the regional FEMA headquarters. The command provides unique DoD capabilities for disaster response. Rowe said three active-duty military installations have been designated as FEMA logistics points: Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.; and the Naval Air Station at Meridian, Miss.
The 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Fort Drum, N.Y., is the quick-reaction force for the homeland. “They are provided with situational awareness and provided with prepare-to-deploy orders if needed,” Rowe said.
In addition, Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., has given direction to three amphibious ships -- the USS Bataan, the USS Nassau and the USS Ponce -- to be prepared to sortie if needed. The command also has at its disposal additional communications, engineering, and aviation units.