Emergency managers from across North Carolina have been working in Puerto Rico since October 1 to support ongoing relief and recovery efforts underway on the U.S. island territory hit by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20. Another team departs Friday for Puerto Rico while one returns home Sunday.
For the past seven weeks, North Carolina teams have worked alongside their counterparts from Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) in several capacities. Currently, three teams are supporting different emergency operations centers on the island. A 10-person team is serving in the island’s main emergency operations center (EOC) in San Juan, and two six-person teams are staffing emergency operations centers in Zones 7 and 8, mountainous areas in the center of the island that were some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.
“North Carolina is considered a national leader for disaster response and recovery,” said Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “Emergency managers at the local and state level continually train and exercise together so they can respond together and that experience has paid off both here at home and when called upon to help others.”
The first team arrived on the island Oct. 1. The four-person-team, comprised of two NC Emergency Management employees and two from the NC Department of Agriculture, was requested to help with critical animal issues. Their two-week mission was to assess the situation with livestock, poultry and companion animal needs on the island and make recommendations to the Puerto Rican government on animal care. This team was instrumental in helping to solve a feed crisis within the territory’s dairy farm industry.
A 10-person team followed Oct. 10 and was divided to support three emergency operations centers as they coordinated storm relief efforts. Two other teams to support the island’s main EOC have followed with a third team scheduled to deploy on Friday. This last team will assist PREMA through the Thanksgiving holiday and return home December 3.
“Since our first group deployed to the island, Puerto Rico has continued to specifically request North Carolina teams to help staff their operations,” said Mike Sprayberry, state emergency management director. “I’m proud of the work our teams have done and grateful for the support we have received from state and local agencies here in North Carolina to build the best possible teams for these complex assignments that are being performed in austere conditions.”
Agencies who have contributed members to the teams working in Puerto Rico include: NC Emergency Management, State Highway Patrol, NC National Guard, NC Office of Emergency Medical Services, NC Department of Agriculture, Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh fire departments, Buncombe Rescue Squad and county emergency management offices in Chatham, Haywood, Hyde, Lee, McDowell and Wilson counties.
Two area coordinators from North Carolina Emergency Management, Dennis Hancock and David Leonard, have remained in Puerto Rico and are now in their fourth week of duty working alongside Puerto Rico emergency managers. They have volunteered to remain two more weeks. A few other team members have remained for two rotations on the island.
In addition, logistics staffers at the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh continue to plan and schedule the deployment and return of all these team members through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. They are handling the necessary paperwork to fulfill incoming requests from Puerto Rico and to ensure that North Carolina gets reimbursed for its costs on these missions, while also arranging all necessary transportation and lodging. That same logistics team also coordinated the air and sea transportation requirements for the recent deployment and return of a NC National Guard Engineering Task Force of approximately 170 soldiers and all their equipment.