U.S. Northern Command prepares to support relief efforts for Hurricane Rita

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | September 20, 2005

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – U.S. Northern Command is prepared to meet Requests for Assistance that the Federal Emergency Management Agency may issue prior to and in the wake of Hurricane Rita.

USNORTHCOM’s Joint Operations Center continues 24-hour operations in Colorado Springs, Colo., to monitor the storm’s progress and to facilitate subsequent RFAs that may come from FEMA representatives. Defense Coordinating Officers and a Defense Coordinating Elements are on the ground in Tallahassee, Fla. and in Austin, Texas to liaison between USNORTHCOM, FEMA and the Department of Defense.

Additionally, USNORTHCOM established Homestead Air Reserve Base as an operational staging area to pre-position food, water and ice at the request of FEMA, and USNORTHCOM requested from the Joint Staff approval for four heavy-lift and four medium-lift helicopters to be forward staged at Patrick AFB near Cocoa Beach, Fla., and available for potential damage assessments that would be performed by FEMA representatives.

To prepare for possible landfall on the Gulf of Mexico coastline, USNORTHCOM planners are watching the storm closely in order to identify what and when further resources may be needed. Commitment of resources will be wholly dependent on the track the storm takes and the areas impacted.

For those people with deployed service members working relief operations in the Gulf region, USNORTHCOM officials want to stress that potential hurricane havens and avoidance areas are being identified so that military members working in the Gulf do not become victims of Hurricane Rita.

Maritime assets in the Gulf region will also be moving as a result of Hurricane Rita. The USS Bataan is headed to Mayport, Fla. for resupply and will embark four MH-60s and two MH-53 helicopters, then depart Sept. 20-21 with the intent of following behind storm in order to support potential Rita relief efforts.

Current plans also call for the repositioning of Joint Task Force Katrina ships by having them proceed east in order to avoid Hurricane Rita. These ships include the USS Tortuga, the USNS Comfort, the USS Iwo Jima, the USS Shreveport and the Grapple. The Patuxent will remain in the Gulf of Mexico in support repositioning ships. Repositioning ships is normal activity for Navy units when a hurricane has potential to disrupt U.S. Naval operations and threaten the ships and crew members.

There are currently 13,753 active duty and 39,833 National Guard forces supporting relief operations in the Katrina Joint Operating Area (Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi). U.S. Northern Command, in coordination with Joint Task Force (JTF)-Katrina and Office of the Secretary of Defense, continues to track force adjustment as units move in and out of the Joint Operating Area in support of transition operations.

DoD assets are employed in support of a Lead Federal Agency [in this case FEMA] when local and state assets are overwhelmed or exhausted, and when DoD assistance is requested by the Primary Federal Agency and subsequently approved by the Secretary of Defense. The impact of providing such assistance will not adversely affect military preparedness.

DoD support is provided on a reimbursable basis in accordance with the Robert T. Stafford Act. USNORTHCOM is the supported Unified Command for Hurricane Rita.

In addition to Hurricane Rita, USNORTHCOM is monitoring other tropical weather patterns and continues assisting with Hurricane Katrina recovery, monitoring defense of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and providing for the defense of the United States.