Brock Long, FEMA administrator (left); Robert Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense integration (center); and Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson, deputy commander for civil and emergency operations for the US Army Corps of Engineers (right) offer testimony on federal disaster response efforts to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria before the Senate Committee for Homeland Security on Oct. 31. Screenshot photo
The Department of Defense continues to respond with a comprehensive relief effort to a series of hurricanes that have marked “one of the most logistically complex disasters this nation has faced,” FEMA administrator Brock Long told Congress on Tuesday.
“Each of these events could be truly catastrophic standalone events,” Long told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security in reference to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. When the Northern California wildfires are added to the picture, “over 25 million Americans have been impacted” by natural disasters within a 50-day period of time, Long said.
During that time, DOD has received 311 mission assignments from FEMA to support its relief efforts, said Robert Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense integration. Those efforts have seen US Transportation Command fly 2,800 flights over the past 60 days, he said, with more than 1,900 of those flights serving efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The department has a total of 61 rotary-wing aircraft and four fixed-wing aircraft serving efforts in Puerto Rico alone, according to a DOD press release.
The department has also delivered “millions of gallons of fuel” and more than 850 generators to supply temporary power to victims of the storms. Salesses said DOD had delivered “more than 100,000,000 meals” along with “millions of liters of water and life-sustaining commodities.” In total, 11,385 US military personnel are currently working to support hurricane disaster response, according to the release.
In Puerto Rico, the power grid is “slightly over 33 percent restored,” said Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson, deputy commander for civil and emergency operations for the US Army Corps of Engineers. In the meantime, Jackson said a 50-megawatt generator has “helped stabilize the grid” temporarily in the San Juan area, and 400 more generators are providing temporary power to “critical facilities” like hospitals around the island. Jackson said his next goal is to restore the grid to “50 percent of pre-storm load by the end of November.”
To improve disaster response for future storms, Long said he wants to professionalize hiring procedures at FEMA to retain a permanent workforce and sustain disaster-response knowledge from one event to the next. He also said individuals need to prepare better. “Each citizen is responsible for their own individual preparedness,” Long said. Part of the problem currently is that “we do not have a true culture of preparedness in this country,” Long told the committee.