Massive Federal Efforts Underway in Hurricane Afflicted Areas

Massive federal relief effort under way
FEMA sends rescue teams, Pentagon sends ships, helicopters

Victims of Hurricane Katrina — some of whom escaped with only their lives — soon will get help from a massive federal relief effort led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pentagon.
The FEMA effort includes search teams to find victims trapped in the attics of their homes and rescuers specialized in searching collapsed buildings.
Other teams will set up field hospitals, provide mortuary services and treat injured animals.
The Pentagon effort includes the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, whose helicopters have been flying relief missions from off the Louisiana coast.
The ship, which resembles a small aircraft carrier, can produce large quantities of fresh water and is equipped with 600 hospital beds.

600 hospital beds? Not hospital beds as you think of them. This is not a hospital ship, nor even close (it does not have the medical personnel to staff a hospital with 600 beds). Rather, there are probably 600 beds available, not hospital beds. Other reports state the USS Iwo Jima will join the USS Bataan (similar ships)

The USNS Comfort, a floating hospital based in Baltimore, Maryland, will depart in coming days. A medical crew from Bethesda Naval Hospital will staff the ship. It has full hospital capabilities, including operating rooms and hundreds of beds.

USNS Comfort is indeed a floating hospital

USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) each contain 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000 bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a diagnostic and clinical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a cat scan and two oxygen producing plants. Both vessels have a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters, as well as side ports to take on patients at sea.

Back to CNN

More than 125,000 National Guard troops have been activated in 19 states and Washington, D.C., to help local agencies with traffic control, security, distributing food, and search and rescue, a Guard spokesman said.
The Coast Guard, whose crews have been assisting in the rescue of people stranded by high water in the New Orleans area, is recalling 550 reservists to assist in the relief effort.
The Air Force said it was sending two large cargo planes to the region — a C-5 Galaxy to Louisiana and a C-17 to Mississippi.

I’m under-whelmed – but the airports are underwater, so what can the USAF do? But one of the unsung USAF heroes will be the efforts of the RC-135 (ancient Boeing 707s, when did you last fly one of them commercially?) reconnaissance aircraft out of Offutt AFB, and the Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) at USSTRATCOM. In support of FEMA, I am sure they are flying over the affected areas, taking high resolution photographs, to be analyzed at the USSTRATCOM JIC, to find the areas affected. This was also done during the 1994 Mississippi River floods. (If this is not being done, why not? This is a National Emergency!) Many of the most affected areas are inaccessible – this is similar to the “fog of war,” where you just don’t know, so “intelligence” is necessary.

For some reason, the Washington Post decided to be snarky, and blame the War in Iraq. At least this is on page A14, very buried.

Strain of Iraq War Means the Relief Burden Will Have to Be Shared

With thousands of their citizen-soldiers away fighting in Iraq, states hit hard by Hurricane Katrina scrambled to muster forces for rescue and security missions yesterday — calling up Army bands and water-purification teams, among other units, and requesting help from distant states and the active-duty military.
As the devastation threatened to overwhelm state resources, federal authorities called on the Pentagon to mobilize active-duty aircraft, ships and troops and set up an unprecedented task force to coordinate a wider military response, said officials from the Northern Command, which oversees homeland defense.

It boggles the mind to imagine that local resources would be sufficient for this disaster. Regardless of the number of National Guard deployed, the afflicted states would not have sufficient resources.

National Guard officials in the states acknowledged that the scale of the destruction is stretching the limits of available manpower while placing another extraordinary demand on their troops ….
More than 6,000 Guard members were mobilized in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida when the storm struck on Monday, with the number rising to 8,000 yesterday and hundreds more expected to be called to active duty, National Guard officials said yesterday.
Mississippi has about 40 percent of its Guard force deployed or preparing to deploy and has called up all remaining Guard units for hurricane relief, Thaggard said. Those include the Army band based in Jackson, Miss. “They are mustering transportation to move them south,” he said. Soldiers who have lost their homes are exempt, he said.
Mississippi has requested troops and aircraft from about eight other states — including military police and engineers from Alabama, helicopters and crews from Arkansas and Georgia, and aircraft-maintenance experts from Connecticut, who are filling in for a Mississippi maintenance unit that is heading to the Middle East.

And the Federal Government pays for most of the National Guard, and the Adjutant Generals of the states are totally selected (except SC – elected) much by local political patronage, I am not exactly sure what the point is here. That the National Guard should never have a Federal responsibility? My view is that the National Guard has turned into Pork-Barrel politics, and is torn between two masters.

Meanwhile, we have a significant disruption of America’s oil industry (5-10% of the refinining capacity), the major internal waterway is blocked (amazingly little coverage on this), a collaspe of the thin veneer of civilization (yes, I’m being snarky to quote Vaclav Havel here), and a major humanitarian crisis in the middle of the richest country/Great Satan/whatever. Rather than throwing blame, I support finding solutions for all those without homes.

FILED UNDER: General, Natural Disasters,
Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Someone wrote:

    I’m under-whelmed – but the airports are underwater, so what can the USAF do? But one of the unsung USAF heroes will be the efforts of the RC-135 (ancient Boeing 707s, when did you last fly one of them commercially?) reconnaissance aircraft out of Offutt AFB, and the Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) at USSTRATCOM. In support of FEMA, I am sure they are flying over the affected areas, taking high resolution photographs, to be analyzed at the USSTRATCOM JIC, to find the areas affected. This was also done during the 1994 Mississippi River floods. (If this is not being done, why not? This is a National Emergency!) Many of the most affected areas are inaccessible – this is similar to the “fog of war,” where you just don’t know, so “intelligence” is necessary.

    Actually, the Omaha World-Herald reports in the p.m. editions they used the Open Skies OC-135 and flew the mission today. http://www.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet_print.asp?fsID=120&page=1

  2. R Gardner says:

    Thanks. I just heard on NPR that U-2s are also being used. These will be very useful for figuring out what is happening away from the urban area of New Orleans, where the media is focused.

    The Governor has asked for at least 40,000 troops. Reports are the Marines have arrived.