As Hurricane Florence threatens to devastate the Carolina coast, the Defense Logistics Agency is pre-positioning necessities like water and fuel for first responders who’ll assist those in the storm’s tracks.
The agency began preparations more than a week in advance of Florence’s projected blow. More than 40 DLA personnel have already deployed and almost 50 more will follow. Teams from DLA Distribution and DLA Energy established staging areas alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Incident Staging Bases at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, by Monday. Forecast models have shifted since then, and additional personnel and equipment are on their way to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to provide support in areas that expected little or no impact according early models.
“Our people and supplies are ready,” said Navy Command Master Chief Shaun Brahmsteadt, DLA’s senior enlisted adviser, while assessing DLA’s presence at the A.P. Hill ISB Wednesday. “There will be challenges, but it’s nothing they can’t handle having previous experience supporting relief efforts following other disasters like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.”
As the Department of Defense’s combat logistics supplier, DLA has the unique ability to provide large-scale commodity support and delivery of material typically needed in areas devastated by flooding and power outages.
The amount and types of supplies DLA provides depend on the needs of FEMA and U.S. Northern Command, which is orchestrating military support in the affected states, but pre-positioned supplies are based on previous relief efforts and early requests. By midday Thursday, DLA had received calls for bottled water, ready-to-eat meals, shelf-stable meals, cots, blankets, generators and medical equipment. The agency has also staged propane fuel in addition to diesel and unleaded gasoline based on lessons learned in Puerto Rico.
“There was a big need last year for propane from organizations like the Salvation Army, which needed it for their kitchens so they could cook meals,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Melissa Rodriguez of DLA Energy.
Officials in DLA’s Joint Logistics Operations Center are anticipating first responders’ needs and synchronizing the agency’s response through ongoing status calls with FEMA and USNORTHCOM. And personnel at the JLOC and ISBs are prepared to move to 24-hour operations as first responders assess damage and determine specific needs, Brahmsteadt said.
Preplanning is critical to first responders’ ability to quickly assist citizens who may be stranded without fuel, food or water, Rodriguez added.
“If we waited until after the hurricane, there’d be routes that our trucks couldn’t pass because they’re blocked or flooded. This way, they’re already closer and have a better chance of getting into the affected areas,” she said.
It also gives DLA Distribution officials time to receive trucks and document the contents of each trailer, then organize those trailers so drivers can be ready to hook up and get on the road within minutes of commodity requests from FEMA and USNORTHCOM. About 115 trailers had arrived and were processed at the A.P. Hill ISB by Tuesday with another 40 expected.
Distribution Process Worker Edwin Bagalso said preparations were flowing smoothly. He and many of the 25 DLA Distribution employees on-site assisted in recovery efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Harvey when DLA Distribution’s Deployment Expeditionary Team deployed to Montgomery, Alabama, where they received about 1,500 in- and outbound trailers of supplies.
“The main thing is we’re helping people out,” he said. “We’re all here to support the military, and now we’re also helping our fellow American citizens.”