As Hurricane Irene approaches the East Coast, the Obama administration is preparing for what could be the largest storm to make landfall in the last three years.
“All indications point to this being a historic hurricane,” President Obama said Friday just hours before the storm is set to make landfall.
“If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay,” Obama said, using the presidential bullypulpit to reiterate evacuation orders issued by local and state officials along the Eastern seaboard.
Obama received a telephone briefing on storm preparations from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, and said he has spoken with several mayors and East Coast governors. He is due to leave the Massachusetts island and return to the White House on Saturday.
Amid concerns that the federal budget crunch might sap resouces needed to respond to storm damage, Homeland Security Secretary Janeta Napolitano said the Obama administration is “going to have the resources we need to respond to this hurricane.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said the federal disaster relief fund has about $900 million available for immediate assistance, adding that his agency is still responding to several other natural disasters, including spring tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri.
“The one thing we can change the outcome on is loss of life,” Fugate said, warning that flooding in low-lying and inland areas, high winds and power outages lasting for days are possible in Irene’s wake.
Here’s a running tally of what several agencies say they are doing to prepare for the storm:
Taking the lead role in the government’s response, the agency said its National Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMATs) are on the ground in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina and are also being deployed to Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to the agency. Officials are expected to coordinate with local and state officials and provide any assistance requested.
Other agency liaisons are headed to North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland to provide assistance. These types of predeployments of personnel and equipment are typical before major storms, according to the agency.
FEMA is also operating Incident Support Bases (ISBs) at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Gordon, Ga., Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. These facilities allow the agency to distribute supplies — including water, food, baby formula, blankets and tarps — to areas affected by the storm.
Two Mobile Emergency Response Systems are also on standby in Raleigh and Fort Jackson, S.C. to provide potential emergency response communication needs.
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY:
In addition to briefing Obama on the situation, Napolitano spoke Thursday with several governors and mayors on Thursday about the approaching the storm, including Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D), Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue (D), Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R), Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D), Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D).
The U.S. Northern Command is sending a Defense Coordinating Officer to the FEMA Regional Response Coordination Center in Atlanta in case the military needs to work with civil authorities on clean up or disaster response.
Military bases, including Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps air stations Cherry Point and New Rivers have elevated their destructive weather conditions in advance of the storm. Doing so requires personnel on base to prepare facilities for potential damage.
In Virginia, Navy squadrons in Hampton Roads plan to move aircraft into hangars to fly inland on Friday to avoid the storm. All ships in the region have been told to head to sea to avoid winds expected to top 50 knots and waves of five to seven feet, the Navy said.
In the District, Naval District Washington is ordering personnel to prepare for “emergency conditions.”
And about 101,000 National Guard members are available if needed to governors of the affected East Coast states and the District of Columbia, according to the Pentagon.
ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS:
The Corps’s 249th Engineering Battalion (known as “Prime Power”) is on standby at the Fort Bragg, N.C. Incident Support Base.
U.S. COAST GUARD:
Its Water Science Center deployed to North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland to provide storm surge sensors to coastal areas. Sensors are also being sent to Florida, Connecticut and New York.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS:
The department said its facilities along the East Coast are preparing in advance of the storm.
The Hampton, Va. Medical Center has evacuated half of its patients and in New York, a partial evacuation has begun at the Manhattan VA Medical Center. Some New York City VA patients will be transferred to the Bronx & Brooklyn VAMCs.
VA is also assessing whether to clear out facilities in other coastal states, including Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
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The department’s national parks and fish and wildlife refuges “are taking all appropriate actions and informing the public via local announcements as actions are taken,” the department said. The National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service are organizing their Incident Management Teams and law enforcement officials to prepare in advance.
The Park Service also said Thursday night that it would work with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation to reschedule Sunday’s planned dedication of the new MLK Memorial. The ceremony has been postponed due to Hurricane Irene. It is likely to be rescheduled for September or October, organizers said.
The agency’s National Hurricane Center in Florida is monitoring the storm and flying jet surveillance missions into Irene to provide updated forecasts. Hurricane Center Director Bill Read is holding daily conference calls with government officials, reporters, and making a series of television appearances.
WATCH HURRICANE HUNTERS CHASE IRENE:
The agency deployed two Roll Call Spectrum Scanning teams to FEMA regional offices in Atlanta and Boston. These teams can scan communication systems after Irene makes landfall to determine which local or state systems might be adversely affected by the storm.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:
The department said it is providing public health and medical support to states along the East Coast in preparation for the storm.
AMERICAN RED CROSS:
Though not a federal entity, the American Red Cross closely coordinates with the federal government on major disasters.
“If you’e going to go toe to toe with Mother Nature, you can’t ask for a better’ bunch of folks to work with,” American Red Cross President Gail McGovern said Friday.
The Red Cross is deploying about 200 emergency response vehicles across the East Coast equipped with relief items, including food, medicine and mops, she said. It is also sending 60,000 ready to make meals to Virginia and Massachusetts to be distributed as necessary.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers are at the ready and about 1,000 highly-skilled volunteer coordinators are already preparing, McGovern said.
It said it’s opening shelters in North Carolina as local evacuation orders are issued and has the ability to open 15,000 shelters along the storm’s path if necessary. More information is available at RedCross.org.
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