DLA sends critical supplies to recovery teams, victims after Florence

By Beth Reece

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First responders assessing damage wrought by Hurricane Florence and military officials resuming operations after days of installation closures have access to fuel, generators and other critical supplies pre-positioned at federal staging bases by the Defense Logistics Agency.

By Tuesday, DLA had received a dozen orders for more than $115 million worth of supplies, primarily food and water. More than 380 truckloads of bottled water, ready-to-eat meals, cots, blankets, generators, infant and toddler kits, and medical equipment have been sent to Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Staging Bases at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, and Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Teams from DLA Distribution and DLA Energy are at both locations processing inbound and outbound shipments.

“Our partners at FEMA are still doing assessments to find out what the states and local municipalities need. At the same time, our forward-deployed distribution teams continue to receive additional supplies while shipping items south to support ongoing relief efforts,” said Army Maj. Edward Strzalkowski, commander of DLA Distribution’s Deployment Expeditionary Team at Fort A.P. Hill.

The agency has also provided pricing and availability data of additional supplies like safety vests, gloves and water-purification kits.

Over 90 DLA personnel have deployed to support FEMA and the 13,000-plus service members assisting relief efforts on behalf of U.S. Northern Command. A 13-member DLA Rapid Deployment Team designated “Task Force Atlantic” is at Maxwell Air Force Base overseeing DLA capabilities in an operating area that extends from Virginia to South Carolina and includes parts of Georgia and West Virginia.

Additional personnel and DLA contracting experts are embedded with key military units to ensure troops have the necessary equipment to clear roads and assist in search and rescue missions. DLA personnel are also helping first responders and military officials clearly define needs.

“Customers might come to us and say, ‘I need a generator.’ We help them mature those needs into a real requirement that DLA can take action on by determining how much power capability they really need and whether they have a way to refuel that generator, for example,” said Navy Capt. Mark Garrigus, Task Force Atlantic commander.

FEMA and USNORTHCOM have received the bulk of DLA’s support, but the agency is also working with officials at military installations affected by the storm, like North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, to help reopen facilities and resume operations. Support ranges from repair parts for aircraft, high-water vehicles and swift-water boats used in rescue missions to resupplying dining facilities that have spoiled food due to power outages or have low stocks because road and installation closures delayed routine shipments.

“The struggle is that North Carolina is still going through a tremendous amount of flooding and all that water continues to move through the state into water ways and tributaries that feed back out into the ocean,” Garrigus said.

As officials determine what supplies are needed where, DLA is sharing the strategies it successfully uses to bypass common routes that are blocked. Transportation in North Carolina is greatly hampered by the closure of almost 1,000 roads and major highways, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation. On Tuesday, a DLA-contracted driver moving fuel south to Camp Lejeune along Interstate 95 was stopped short by a road closure at highway marker 19.

“But through a bunch of state and local roads that weren’t flooded, our driver was able to eventually spider web his way around and get to the base,” he said. “What I’m hearing is routes that normally take just a couple of hours have turned into almost seven-hour drives because not only are some roads closed, others are clogged by people trying to get back to their homes.”

Sharing maps and navigation tips with organizations such as the Defense Commissary Agency, which struggled to find a route to Camp Lejeune to replenish stock for military families, isn’t a DLA mission but helps fellow citizens get back on their feet quicker, Garrigus added.

As roads reopen and the water recedes, DLA will likely follow first responders to staging areas closer to the populations that need support, he continued.

“I suspect that when Fort Bragg becomes accessible again, we’ll probably close the ISB at A.P. Hill and move to that location or possibly the center of North Carolina and not so much in the peripheries as we are now,” he said.

DLA began anticipating what supplies first responders would need and trucking those items to staging bases more than a week before the storm’s arrival, Strzalkowski added. On-site workers rushed to document trucks’ contents, group trailers so they’d be easily accessible to drivers for hookup upon FEMA’s request and conduct safety inspections to ensure vehicles weren’t in danger of breaking down in transit.

“Land management is another thing we have to look at closely as all these inbound shipments arrive. We had to work with installation officials, for example, to get some more gravel put down here because in the beginning we were forecast to get 5 to 6 inches of rain,” he said, adding that the heavy trailers might have otherwise sunk into the mud and delayed outbound shipments.

Even the arrival of supplies and support services from other agencies can affect DLA operations. Ambulances being assembled at Fort A.P. Hill began arriving at 6 a.m. Sept. 12, but since a rally point hadn’t been selected for the ambulances, they lined up at the gate entrance.

“That could have impeded our process of bringing in the commodities we were staging, so we made the decision to bring the ambulances down to our area. It was a good solution for the installation and allowed us to continue getting our trucks onto the post,” Strzalkowski added.

Readying fuel for distribution also requires precautionary steps to ensure trucks aren’t in need of repair and the product meets standards. DLA quality assurance specialists are verifying that diesel, unleaded fuel and propane are on specification and tracking trucks’ locations via radio frequency identification devices. Mechanics are also available at both staging bases with tools and parts to conduct truck repairs if necessary.

Although Florence moved out of the Carolinas Monday, FEMA Director Brock Long told reporters at noon Tuesday that recovery had a long way to go, with the following 48 hours being the most critical due to cresting rivers. DLA will remain ready to respond, Garrigas said.

“We’ve taken a proactive approach to reaching out to our customers and making sure they have a point of contact if they need supplies or assistance for newly developing requirements,” he said. “We’re just a phone call away.”