Federal resources are deployed in five states across the Southeast as emergency response teams brace for Hurricane Matthew’s menacing force and potentially widespread damages.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preparedness efforts began more than a week ago, and FEMA officials have tweaked the locations of response teams and supplies as forecasts have developed.
Our number one job right now is to make sure we’re putting (supplies) in the right place.
Mary Hudak, FEMA spokesperson
Here’s three things to know about the plan:
1. It’s not just FEMA
“This is really an all-hands-on-deck response,” said Mary Hudak, spokeswoman for FEMA Region 4, which includes Florida, Georgia and South Carolina – all places where Hurricane Matthew could unleash high winds, damaging floods and storm surges. Region 4 also includes North Carolina, Alabama and three other Southern states.
FEMA works with nearly a dozen other federal agencies and volunteer organizations in a team approach, Hudak said. Those include federal officials working in transportation, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, nutrition and health, and the Department of Defense and military.
The Salvation Army and the Red Cross also are involved. Urban search and rescue teams include federal, state and local first responders.
Much of the Hurricane Matthew “pre-positioning” of supplies – that is, food, water and other necessities put in place before the storm makes landfall – originates from FEMA’s Atlanta-based operations warehouse.
“Our number one job right now is to make sure we’re putting all those things in the right place,” Hudak said.
FEMA classifies “commodities” to supply during emergency situations as cots and blankets, food with a long shelf life, baby formula, medical supplies, bottled water and other necessities.
Fort Bragg, Dobbins Air Force Base and the Marine Corps Logistics Center in Georgia are staging areas for FEMA supplies and workers.
2. Military bases play key role
Staging areas like Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina, Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Georgia, and the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, are predetermined by federal agencies, Hudak said.
With large quantities of supplies and potentially thousands of first responders on the ground, she said, the military bases provide emergency workers with safety and security as they help affected communities.
“We use them often,” Hudak said.
On Sunday, FEMA began moving trucks toward Fort Bragg, N.C., one of the world’s largest military installations, when forecasts predicted Hurricane Matthew might hit the Tar Heel State coastline the hardest.
As weather information changed, FEMA moved its supplies to include military and government staging areas in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The Corps of Engineers’ “Prime Power Team” is responsible for safe setup and use of generators in case of large power outages.
Other FEMA activity hubs for Hurricane Matthew include the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, the Region 4 headquarters in Atlanta and a state logistics center near Orlando, Florida.
It’s difficult to estimate how many personnel are on hand beyond FEMA employees, Hudak said, because so many agencies are involved.
3. Crews ready for aftermath
Earlier this week, emergency officials worked to execute preparedness plans so they are ready to deal with damages and injuries from Hurricane Matthew, Hudak said.
We’re still on the front end of this hurricane ... So we don’t know how bad the damage could end up.
President Barack Obama on Friday
FEMA employees follow a mantra from Administrator Craig Fugate – a former Florida state director of emergency management – about the work they do, Hudak said: “Go be ready, go fast, go smart. ... Be efficient and come home as soon as you’re done.”
Their work isn’t done when the storm’s over.
President Barack Obama told reporters Friday morning at the White House much of the federal government’s heavy lifting on Hurricane Matthew will be post-storm.
“We’re still on the front end of this hurricane,” he said. “... So we don’t know how bad the damage could end up. We don’t know how severe the storm surge could end up being. And we’re not going to know for three, four, five days, what the ultimate effects of this are.”
Obama mentioned people still homeless in Louisiana after losing so much in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“There is a backlog of need from natural disasters across the country that we’d like, hopefully during the lame duck session, to figure out how to fund effectively,” he said.