How the federal government is poised to respond to Hurricane Florence

September 13, 2018, 5:25 PM

The majority of planning and response to major storms or severe weather is led by state and local governments but the federal government plays a significant role in providing resources, manpower, and funding for recovery after the storm.

President Donald Trump said earlier this week that the federal government is "totally prepared" for Hurricane Florence.

For example, federal law enforcement officers are on hand to assist in rescues and help secure facilities and shelters impacted by the storm. The largest federal law enforcement presence comes from the Department of Interior, which has deployed 76 officers from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the region.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the members of the federal law enforcement contingent are poised to go wherever they are needed.

"I think it's important, too, to realize that many of these law enforcement special operations, what we call SORT teams -- their families and homes are at risk, too," he told ABC News. "But they're out on the front line during these crises, just like our firemen, just like our local law enforcement. "Any time their families and homes are at risk, they're on the front lines. Service for all, so God bless them," Zinke said.

Here's the latest on what federal agencies are doing to prepare and respond to Hurricane Florence.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the lead agency coordinating the federal response to Hurricane Florence. The agency is ready to distribute millions of liters of water, millions of pounds of food, and hundreds of thousands of blankets. FEMA has activated 27 incident support centers in the region and 25 search-and-rescue teams ahead of the storm.

Energy, environment & agriculture

The Energy Department is installing generators at facilities deemed critical, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Additionally, about 40,000 crews from 17 states are also deployed to help restore power.

Brunswick Nuclear Plant, four miles inland in Southport, N.C., is currently in the path of Hurricane Florence. Based on forecasts, officials from Duke Energy – the largest regional utility -- said they anticipate the plant site will experience sustained hurricane force winds and, per procedures, operators will be prepared to systematically shutting down both units. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has deployed more than a dozen inspectors to support nuclear facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has waived some fuel requirements for the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia in an effort to prevent fuel shortages. Based on the current projected path of Hurricane Florence, EPA has identified 40 Superfund sites within the potential impact zone and will be monitoring those sites for any damage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has subject matter experts in place to help states analyze damage to wastewater facilities after Hurricane Florence passes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing information to the impacted areas about keeping food safe during power outages, protecting livestock, and recovery funding that could be made available to producers that lose livestock or crops because of the storm.


As Hurricane Florence approaches, airlines and airports are preparing for the storm. Smaller and medium-sized airports are winding down their operations. Airlines are securing equipment and getting recovery teams in place.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has teams in place to get checkpoints back up and running. The agency has what's called a National Deployment Force (NDF) made up of train station security officers, K9 teams, supervisors and other staffers who respond when additional resources are needed. When regular employees can't get to work after a hurricane hits, these teams are there to step in. Twenty-five NDF members have already been dispatched to the Raleigh-Durham Int'l Airport.

Generally, planes do not land at an airport where winds are consistently blowing over 30 or 35 mph. When winds reach higher than 55 mph or so, air traffic controllers will clear the tower. Thousands of flights were canceled in advance of the storm.

Major airports rarely use the word "closed," but they will halt operations and ask people not to come. We'll be keeping a close eye on Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston and Wilmington.

At this point, no major airports are "closing." All airlines have waivers in place for airports in the Carolinas and Virginia. Many are capping fares for flights out of the region. Some are using larger aircraft to add available seats to outbound flights, including Delta.

Airports that have ceased operations as of Thursday afternoon include Charleston (CHS), Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach (MYR), Fayetteville (FAY), Hampton/Newport News (PHF), Greenville (PGV), Jacksonville (OAJ) and Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (EWN).

Department of Defense

Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Virginia and Fort Bragg in North Carolina have been designated as the FEMA Incident Support and Federal Staging Area in support of response efforts. The Army Corps of Engineers has alerted some of its teams to prepare for deployment, including Temporary Emergency Power Personnel. The Navy has begun re-positioning more than 100 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters from its bases in the Norfolk, Virginia area. Today and tomorrow they’ll head to bases in six states in advance of the storm.

Almost 4,000 National Guard troops have been activated in North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

Communications & highways

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff have been deployed to survey systems and work with stakeholders to support restoration and recovery efforts.

The Federal Highway Administration is working with state transportation agencies on evacuations, turning highways into one way lanes and recovery efforts.


U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar declared public health emergencies for North Carolina and South Carolina as Hurricane Florence continues its track toward the eastern seaboard. The declarations give healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs. Three hundred medical personnel are in position and 200 ambulances are staged in Raleigh, NC, with more available if needed.

U.S. Department of Interior

National Parks and wildlife refuges are closed and staff will begin to assess any damage and work to clean up debris and re-open roads soon after the storm passes. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are also on hand to provide real-time information to first responders and have installed 160 sensors along the coastline to track the tide.

What about insurance companies?

Before the storm even hits, insurance companies will be mobilizing their response teams, which will travel to hard-hit areas to assess the damage (not much done pre-storm).

Pat Garrett, president North American Insurance Consultants based in Tampa, Florida, said the most important thing homeowners can do now is to take video of their homes before the storm hits and to catalog everything they own.

Garrett, a licensed public adjuster who represents homeowners in insurance claims, says storm evacuees should bring those files and their policies with them. He also says it's important to never underestimate the damage a storm can do even once it's passed. Humidity and mold will likely destroy much of a home left boarded up until roads are passable.

He noted that flood insurance typically maxes out at $250,000 and that buying additional flood insurance can be cost-prohibitive.

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