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Federal agencies, employees surge to Harvey’s devastation

Volunteers and first responders help flood victims evacuate to shelters as water rises in Houston on Monday. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Like an atmospheric bully, Hurricane Harvey settled its big butt over the Texas Gulf Coast, causing epic rains, floods and misery — before inflicting more grief on Louisiana.

But a welcome counterpoint to Mother Nature’s destruction is the human response, the legion of selfless volunteers, charitable organizations and regular folks helping residents survive. Government workers at all levels, including more than 12,400 federal employees as of Wednesday morning, are directly involved with the disaster.

About two dozen federal offices have responded, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is taking the lead with more than 3,200 staffers on Harvey’s case, including 1,100 search and rescue personnel, to AmeriCorps. It sent over 250 people to the area for food and shelter operations and debris removal.

By boat and aircraft, the U.S. Coast Guard had rescued more than 4,200 people and 1,000 pets through early Wednesday.

President Trump visited Texas Aug. 29, after Hurricane Harvey struck parts of the state. Here’s how his predecessors handled natural disasters. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

So far, President Trump has not faced the criticism George W. Bush earned for his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. A statement from the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), whose district includes parts of metropolitan Houston, said “she’s encouraged by the Federal response so far but there’s still so much that needs to be done. She was pleased by the President’s remarks promising that Texas will have everything it needs.  Moving forward, she remains hopeful that the President will deliver on his words. ”

Federal employees also are among those who might need assistance. Almost 60,000 feds, working in 45 agencies, regularly work in the Houston area, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

FEMA said the federal response to Harvey includes:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ public health emergency declaration for Texas. HHS has more than 500 staffers in Texas and Louisiana with an additional 1,000 on alert. “They deployed approximately 53,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies to support medical and public health needs in the affected areas. HHS helped arrange for evacuation of three Texas hospitals Saturday,” according to FEMA, while assessing “damage and needs of mental health centers, dialysis centers, pharmacies, and other critical health infrastructure.” More than 340 HHS employees began “rapid strike” training Monday, before being sent to the field.
  • The National Guard Bureau said it “would provide an additional 20,000 to 30,000 Soldiers and Airmen in support of the ongoing Hurricane Harvey response efforts.” The entire Texas National Guard has been activated.
  • National Emergency Medical Services contract for 100 ambulances and 15 air ambulances
  • Mobile Emergency Response Support providing voice, video and information services for emergency
  • Incident Management Assistance Teams on the ground in Austin and Baton Rouge to help with requests for federal assistance
  • National Business Emergency Operations Center facilitating information to private companies for communicating with their employees
  • National Flood Insurance Program adjusters in Texas and Louisiana to assist with damage assessments
  • Army Corps of Engineers services, from sandbags to power restoration and flood fighting projects
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement work on “the evacuation of offshore oil and gas platforms and rigs due to the storm. Personnel have been evacuated from 89 production platforms and four drilling rigs”
  • Department of Defense search-and-rescue aircraft, in addition to generators, 50,000 gallons of gasoline and 450,000 gallons of diesel fuel. DOD is sending 100 tactical vehicles to Houston for personnel and patient transportation from flooded areas
  • Department of Energy monitoring of Harvey’s hit on oil and natural gas supplies
  • Environmental Protection Agency working with Energy to ensure fuel availability in the storm zone
  • Federal Communications Commission monitoring of communications networks and efforts to restore communications in disaster zones
  • Department of the Interior storm-tide sensors to provide daily reports on water heights. Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey updates storm surge forecasts.
  • National Park Service and Office of Aviation Services drones “for search and rescue operations and to provide imagery for identifying high priority search areas.”
  • U.S. Postal Service review of “conditions for restoration of service on a case by case basis.”
  • Department of Transportation “emergency declarations to remove restrictions in order to hasten the delivery of emergency equipment and supplies to the region”
  • and Spanish language websites compile federal agency updates on Harvey.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs assistance to tribes needing emergency aid.

Even the HHS Office of Inspector General is involved in assisting with the Harvey response. Inspectors general usually audit and investigate agency operations after the fact. In this case, members of the HHS inspector general’s staff, including law enforcement officers, are assisting with teams on medical assistance, mortuary operations, security and search and rescue.

FEMA said it set up Incident Support Bases in Texas and Louisiana “to ensure supplies including water, meals, blankets and other resources are closer to affected areas.” As of Wednesday morning, FEMA provided Texans more than 306,000 meals and over 687,000 liters of water.

“More than 4.6 million meals, 5.1 million liters of water, and thousands of cots and blankets remain available … for transfer to the states of Texas and Louisiana should they be needed and requested,” FEMA reported.

FEMA’s list can’t be complete because it doesn’t include the National Weather Service. As the rain subsided in some areas,  residents were cautioned not against complacency.

“Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and portions of southwestern Louisiana,” the Weather Service warned. “This is a life-threatening situation.”

Read more:

[Harvey marks the most extreme rain event in U.S. history]

[Houston dam spills over for the first time in history, overwhelmed by Harvey rainfall]

[Haunted by Katrina’s memory, Louisiana now faces Harvey]