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A&M Forest Service responders joining Florida relief effort in wake of Hurricane Michael

A&M Forest Service responders joining Florida relief effort in wake of Hurricane Michael


Six Texas A&M Forest Service incident management responders are on their way to Florida to assist state and local officials with Hurricane Michael relief and recovery efforts.

The Florida Office of Emergency Management requested an incident management team from Texas through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact over the weekend.

Texas A&M Forest Service associate director Mark Stanford said midday Monday that the team will work in a variety of capacities upon arrival in Florida, including operations, planning and public information support. The team packed tents, computers, food and water, and other supplies to be self-sustaining and not drain resources from local outlets.

"It's a process of building trust and building a team at the local level without looking like you're trying to step on their toes or infringe on their authority," said Stanford about the process of joining another region's response efforts.

"Don't be a burden yourself," he said. "You know going in that the priorities are the care and welfare of the civilians in the counties that were victimized."

Michael strengthened rapidly as it moved north through the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall as a Category 4 major hurricane Wednesday afternoon just east of Panama City, Florida.

Texas A&M Forest Service mitigation prevention specialist Mary Leathers said her role will be to assist in sharing information with the public from officials -- a task made more challenging, she said, by sustained power outages experienced in parts of the Florida Panhandle.

"There's a lot of pride in being asked to go out and help our neighboring states, represent our agency in Texas and show that service isn't just a word that's on our patch -- it's something that we do, and we cross state lines to do that," Leathers said.

Leathers and five colleagues left Texas by truck Monday afternoon. Their original destination was the town of Marianna, Florida, to assist Jackson County personnel. However, Florida officials asked midday Monday for them to be sent, instead, to Tallahassee, the home of the Florida Division of Emergency Management's headquarters.

Tallahassee, Florida's capital city, is approximately 100 miles east of where the storm made landfall and about 800 miles east of Bryan.

Other work will likely include support in tracking financial costs, tracking and sharing of data, and damage assessment assistance.

Stanford said the nature of incident response is that plans can change quickly depending on need.

"If more people are needed, then they'll communicate back and we'll send more," he said.

Texas A&M Forest Service task force coordinator Steven Moore, another member of the A&M Forest service delegation, said Florida Forest Service employees traveled to Texas earlier this year to assist with wildfires near Bastrop. "It's a great honor to be able to help these states that just very recently helped us," Moore said. 

Moore and Stanford said there is a national network of incident management responders who have worked in concert through a number of crises and challenges.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact is a mutual aid agreement among states and territories of the United States. Stanford said the agreement enables states to share resources during natural and human-made disasters, including terrorism.

Thirty-nine members of the Texas A&M Forest Service team went to New York for two weeks to help the New York City Fire Department's Incident Management Team respond to Hurricane Sandy.

The FDNY, in turn, sent about 40 of its incident management team members roughly 1,600 miles to College Station in August to get briefed on Hurricane Harvey and to prep for a deployment to coastal areas hit hard by the 2017 storm.

Leathers and Moore said their six-person team would stay in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Monday night, and complete the drive today. 

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