Defense Department officials told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday how DoD has supported federal, state and local officials in responding to the unprecedented series of hurricanes this year.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria put tremendous strain on all levels of government and service members of all components stepped up to save lives, restore critical services and help those affected transition to recovery, said Robert Salesses, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense integration and defense support of civilian agencies.
For the hurricanes, DoD’s main support was to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the department also supported other federal agencies such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Energy and Transportation. Service members also supported agencies at state and local levels.
“DoD is well prepared and has forces and capabilities ready to act immediately to sustain lives in the aftermath of disasters,” Salesses said. “DoD ensures a high level of preparedness by continually enhancing integrated planning, improving our training and conducting joint exercises between our federal, state and local partners.”
Before all three storms, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis directed the department to provide full support to life saving, life sustaining operations. “Based on this direction, DoD postured significant capabilities -- Navy ships, strategic airlift, helicopters, medical teams and logistics -- prior to each of the hurricanes’ landfall to assist the citizens of Texas Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Salesses said.
So far, he noted, DoD has accepted 311 mission assignments from FEMA and other federal partners.
“Federal forces conducted search and rescue, evacuation operations, provided damage assessments, surveyed and made repairs to open airports and seaports,” Salesses said.
Military units cleared critical roadways, transported life-sustaining commodities, provided fuel distribution, conducted assessments of civilian hospitals and provided medical support to include evacuating patients back to the continental United States, he said.
U.S. Transportation Command has flown more than 2,800 flights in the past two months in support of hurricane operations, Salesses said, with more than 1,900 flights in support of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
These flights brought in first responders, such as FEMA's urban search and rescue teams and HHS' disaster medical teams, and relief supplies and equipment, he said. The flights also evacuated hundreds of residents and patients.
“The Defense Logistics Agency has provided millions of gallons of fuel, over 850 generators, more than a 100 million meals, and millions of liters of water and life sustaining commodities,” Salesses said. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted flood mitigation operations in Houston and Puerto Rico, conducted maritime port surveys and openings along with the U.S. Coast Guard, installed temporary roofs to enable people to stay in their homes, provided temporary emergency power to over 550 critical facilities.”
Tens of thousands of Army and Air National Guard personnel, working with the respective governors from the affected states and the supporting states conducted search and rescue, evacuation operations, commodities disruption, and other critical support operations, he said. They are still serving in some of the affected areas.
Corps of Engineers
Army Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the Corps supports FEMA for public works and engineering. This includes providing temporary emergency power, temporary roofing, debris management, infrastructure assessment, critical public facility restoration and temporary housing.
The Corps also assists state and local entities with implementing advanced measures that prevent or reduce storm event damages. “And we repair damage to authorized federal projects and work with states and municipalities to rehabilitate and restore eligible nonfederal flood infrastructure to prestorm condition,” Jackson said.
The Corps uses preordered contracts that can be quickly activated for missions, such as debris removal, temporary roofing and generator installation. “This year, the Corps supported FEMA-led federal response and recovery operations in support of multiple events, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria,” he said.
As of yesterday morning, the corps had completed about 1,000 assessments and 550 temporary generator installations across the Caribbean, Jackson said.
“The Corps has completed over 1,300 temporary roofing installations in Florida and is on track to complete the mission by Nov. 3,” he said. “We also have completed over 6,000 temporary roofing installations across the Caribbean, including over 2,000 in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 4,000 in Puerto Rico.”
Power remains a huge problem in Puerto Rico, the officials said. “The Corps is partnering with [the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority] in this effort and has established a general officer, senior executive-led task force as well as three area offices on the island to oversee work and provide technical assistance,” Jackson said.
“The Department of Energy has embedded experts in our team and continues to assist in our efforts,” the general continued. “Within two weeks of receiving the mission assignment, the Corps awarded contracts for large-scale, temporary power generation to stabilize the grid in San Juan and for additional line repair assets that will assist ongoing efforts by PREPA to complete the mission as quickly as possible.”
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Department of Defense website.