Feds scramble to counter Katrina's effects

The Army is rushing satellite communications equipment to the devastated Gulf Coast region as part of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

The 1st Army activated its 24-hour Crisis Action team and sent defense coordinating elements to the impacted states. The Army is providing satellite phones and other crucial military communications assets that do not rely on local infrastructure.

One of the lessons learned from the hurricanes that struck Florida last year was the need for satellite communications, because hurricanes can bring down key communications nodes, and cell phones and land lines likely will not work for some time, said Col. James Hickey, 1st Army's chief of staff, in a statement.

The Homeland Security Department also announced today that it is sending a vast array of resources to the region.

The departments and agencies playing a role in recovery efforts are the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Coast Guard, National Guard, Small Business Administration and the Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation and Treasury departments.

President Bush has declared major disasters for impacted areas in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. In the near term, FEMA will concentrate on lifesaving and life-sustaining efforts, the department said.

"At this time, we are directing the full range of federal resources and capabilities to assist and protect those who have born the brunt of this catastrophe," said Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff in a statement today. He pledged the federal government will provide the sustained support and aid necessary for citizens of the Gulf Region to eventually recover and reclaim their homes and communities.

The federal response includes:

FEMA. The agency deployed 39 disaster medical assistance teams from across the country to staging areas in Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana and is now moving them to impacted areas. The agency also deployed 18 urban search task forces and two incident support teams to Shreveport, La., and Jackson, Miss., as well as 8 swift-water rescue teams.

Coast Guard. Coast Guard ships, boats and aircraft continue to support FEMA and state and local authorities with rescue and recovery efforts. The Coast Guard also has activated three national strike teams to help remove hazardous materials. Chertoff has authorized the recall to active duty of 550 Coast Guard reservists to support response and recovery activities.

National Guard. National Guard units from the four most heavily impacted states are providing support to civil authorities. Guard units also are providing generators, medical assistance and shelters. More than 31,500 members from the four impacted states are providing assistance.

Defense Department. The U.S. Northern Command is supporting the FEMA disaster relief efforts. NORTHCOM, the lead Defense Department organization for Hurricane Katrina response, is establishing a joint task force to coordinate military response in support of FEMA.

Health and Human Services Department. The department has placed 415 public health service officers on stand-by for deployment.

Transportation Department. The department has dispatched a team of 66 transportation experts to support state and local officials in assessing damage to highways, railroads, transit systems, ports and pipelines. The department also is supporting detour planning and critical transportation system repairs.

Agriculture Department. The Forest Service has assigned 10 management and logistical teams and seven 20-person crews to the affected areas and host communities. These resources are intended to assist in setting up logistics staging areas, distributing food and removing debris.

Labor Department. Region VI has deployed its Emergency Response Team to Baton Rouge to assess the situation and provide assistance to recovery workers and utility employers engaged in power restoration.

Treasury Department. The IRS has announced special relief for taxpayers in the Presidential Disaster Areas, which will give them until October 31 to file tax returns and submit payments.

Small Business Administration. The SBA will position loan officers in federal and state disaster recovery centers. SBA also will provide help to other states in the eastern half of the country where the storm may lead to disaster area declarations.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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