Photo: via U.S. Army
Americans held their collective breath as Hurricane Isaac pelted the Gulf Coast with 80-mph winds and up to 20 inches of rain in some places last week. In an ominous sign, the Category I hurricane passed through New Orleans seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Isaac was a force to be reckoned with, as New Orleans was drenched with more rain than it received during Hurricane Katrina.
Our hearts go out to all those on the Gulf Coast, especially the nine people who lost their lives. Roughly half the households in Louisiana—some 900,000—were left without power, and some reports indicate that the storm may have caused up to $2 billion in damages. Still, the damage wrought by Isaac was far less than that caused by Katrina in 2005, which was responsible for 1200 deaths, and over $100 billion in damages.
That doesn’t happen by luck–it’s the product of state, local, and federal agencies working hand-in-hand to strengthen our nation’s communities ability to respond to disasters. [W1]
Major General Walter Davis, the Deputy Commanding General of US Army North, said that since Katrina in 2005, “local, state, and federal agencies, with the added assistance of military forces, have worked tirelessly to establish and rehearse cooperative partnerships that have truly enhanced our collective ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters of all kinds”.
The years of planning, training, and preparation paid off. State and local responders performed magnificently, as local civil authorities, augmented with thousands of National Guardsmen. Despite the damage, local authorities had the situation well in hand, with no major requests for federal military responders. Still, the situation was carefully monitored by one of the primary agencies responsible for defence Support of Civil Authorities—US Army North. Headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, Army North is US Northern Command’s operational headquarters for land forces in the homeland.
As Isaac barreled down on the Gulf Coast, the men and women of Army North raced directly into the storm’s path. Nearly one hundred men and women took up positions throughout the Gulf region—assessing damage, and making plans for logistical support, should federal forces be needed. defence Coordinating Officers spent long nights working alongside their counterparts from FEMA, as well as state and local officials. Based on experience learned from previous hurricane seasons, helicopters from the Army and Navy stationed themselves on the edge of the storm, just a few hours’ flight from Isaac’s landfall.
Isaac was destructive, yes, but years of tedious building, planning, and preparation paid off. The levees in New Orleans held, and civil authorities helped citizens comply with mandatory evacuation orders. Emergency shelters were identified well in advance, as were distribution points for water, food, and ice.
“The state [of Louisiana] and the National Guard were very well prepared”, said Colonel Bryan Newkirk, a defence Coordinating Officer who worked closely with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s emergency management team.
“It was very encouraging the way the state met the needs of the people. They didn’t need a lot of federal assistance”.
Federal assistance was minimal, but welcome. At one point, medical planners worked with officials from Health and Human services to evacuate 125 nursing home residents to nearby Belle Chasse Naval Air Station.
Thousands of National Guardsmen—over 5,000 in Louisiana alone—were activated to assist their countrymen. State responders were very proactive in identifying a potential disaster, when it appeared that the Tangipahoa Dam could potentially fail. Though the dam ultimately held, Louisiana officials were quick to rush transportation assets and search-and-rescue teams to the area as a precautionary measure.
Responders from Army North headed for home once they were assured that state and local officials had the situation under control. By all accounts, the response from local officials was little short of amazing, given the conditions at hand.
Most importantly, though, citizens from across America came together to help those affected receive food, medicine, and emergency shelter. This strong sense of community helped prevent many issues which arose in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
These results don’t come about by accident. They come about through the extraordinary efforts of government officials, first responders, and the American people. We are pleased that the affects of Hurricane Isaac could be managed by the resilient communities of the Gulf Coast. Yet, Army North will always be in the background, ready to support American communities and their citizens when they need it the most. Our countrymen expect, and deserve nothing less.
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