Dept. of Homeland Security Responds to Frances

Sept. 7, 2004
While Hurricane Frances was dropping a foot of rain on parts of Florida, and with high winds and flooding creating devastation along its path, the Department of Homeland Security was already positioning additional teams in Florida as part of a massive response and recovery operation.

As many residents returned home today, power outages impacted 2.5 million customers in Florida, about a third of the state's population, and many residents found themselves waiting in mile-long lines for everything from ice and water to gasoline. Many gas stations received shipments, but were unable to pump gas because of the power outages. Tom Gallagher, Florida's chief financial officer, said initial estimates of the insured damage from Frances ranged from $2 billion to $4 billion.

Joan Heller, a spokeswoman for Brevard County, said distribution centers for ice and water had not opened yet, but that lines were already forming outside.

"Right now our big, big thing is life safety and getting water and ice to people. Once we get that under control, then we'll start looking at the long-term issue of recovery," said Heller.

President George W. Bush asked Congress for $2 billion in aid to help with recovery efforts, and plans to travel to Florida on Sept. 8.

Frances is being blamed for at least five deaths, three in Florida and two in the Bahamas, as well as four traffic-related deaths in Georgia that are linked to the storm.

Frances, which was a Category 4 hurricane at one point, follows close on the heels of Hurricane Charley, also a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 145 mph. The DHS, which coordinated federal response operations and readiness activities with state and local agencies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and pre-positioned emergency management personnel and supplies to ensure a rapid and effective response when Hurricane Frances made landfall, said it remains committed to continuing the Hurricane Charley recovery activities and providing assistance to those states and local governments who may need federal support following Hurricane Frances.

The following activities are being conducted to respond to Hurricane Frances:

  • FEMA deployed an Advanced Emergency Response Team to the Florida and Georgia State Emergency Operation Centers to facilitate state requests for assistance. Rapid Needs Assessment Teams have also been deployed to these states to provide support as necessary.
  • FEMA deployed emergency response teams and pre-staged critical commodities such as ice, water, meals and tarps in various strategic locations for immediate delivery to residents in affected areas.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at FEMA's request, is coordinating the staging of 100 truckloads of water and 100 truckloads of ice.
  • A first shipment of 30,000 tarps was sent to Atlanta to be pre-staged for delivery to areas affected by Hurricane Frances once the storm has cleared.
  • Four Urban Search and Rescue Teams were deployed to Florida and Georgia for immediate deployment if needed and Mobile Emergency Response Service communication units are available to provide telephone, radio and video links in support of response and recovery efforts.
  • Five Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) and one Veterinary Medical Assistance Team have been activated or deployed to sites in Florida and Georgia to support medical facilities and hospitals that are not fully operational following the storm. An additional seven teams have been placed on alert, assembling teams and loading equipment in case they are needed. The DMATs comprise doctors, nurses and medical technicians trained to handle trauma, pediatrics, surgery and mental health concerns. DMATs also bring truckloads of medical equipment and supplies with them.
  • Five pharmaceutical caches containing emergency medical supplies were pre-positioned in Atlanta and Tampa, Fla.
  • Disaster Field Offices and Disaster Recovery Centers will be established in the hardest hit areas within 72 hours after a federal declaration. This allows impacted residents to receive disaster assistance as soon as possible.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard pre-positioned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to support response activities. Several cutters and boats were relocated to safe harbors throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast and inland waterways to await the passing of the storm. The Coast Guard is assisting with post-hurricane response and recovery operations to aid navigation assessment and repair, marine pollution response, search and rescue operations, and support to other agencies and humanitarian aid.
  • Aircraft from Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped transport FEMA officials to and from sites flew over the storm's path following landfall to collect high-resolution images for damage assessment. The remotely sensed data allows FEMA to better target areas needing immediate disaster damage assessment.
  • FEMA is working with the General Services Administration to analyze vacancy rates of various safe housing options (including apartments, homes, RVs, time shares, mobile homes, hotels and motels) as part of a temporary housing strategy for those whose homes are severely damaged or destroyed.
  • FEMA is working to provide 10 trailers full of generators at the request of Florida that will be used to provide power to critical facilities affected by the hurricane.
  • FEMA contract inspectors are ready for activation, with surge capability providing for up to 15,000 inspections per day within 14 days of activation.
  • All the National Processing Service Centers (NPSCs) are fully staffed and ready to register and process disaster assistance applications immediately. The Internal Revenue Service has provided additional operators to support tele-registration operations.

Additional information about emergency preparedness can be found at or

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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