Hurricane Irene spurs federal preparation

Friday - 8/26/2011, 7:31am EDT

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

It seems to no longer be a question of if, but when.

The National Weather Service issued early Friday morning a tropical storm warning for the Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., areas.

And the impending landfall of Hurricane Irene, or its nasty remnants, along the East Coast has spurred a range of federal preparation activities.

As much as Washington, D.C. was caught off-guard by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled the area Tuesday, federal officials aim to be as prepared for the hurricane's possible hard-hitting landfall along the East Coast this weekend.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating efforts,already staging in and around areas that will likely be affected. The National Incident Management Assistance Teams are on the ground in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina and expect to travel to other areas along the East Coast, too.

"The entire federal family, coordinating through FEMA, is leaning forward to support our state and territorial partners as Hurricane Irene continues to threaten the East Coast," FEMA said late Thursday afternoon in a release.

FEMA said it "strongly encourages all East Coast residents to take steps now" to prepare for severe weather this weekend and pointed the public to Ready.gov, an online resource for disaster preparedness information.

The Homeland Security Department has planned a press conference for 10 a.m. Friday at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C. to provide an update on preparation efforts.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read and American Red Cross CEO Gail McGover will take part.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced its U.S. Northern Command would take the lead in coordinating DoD's hurricane-related efforts, and at FEMA's request is supporting 11 mission requirements, DoD said in a release Thursday.

Those missions include coordinating efforts with the U.S. Army to support FEMA in Virginia and providing the agency with helicopters and para-rescue units in anticipation of search and rescue operations.

That announcement came just a few hours after it was reported that the Navy ordered 27 ships, including an aircraft carrier, destroyers and submarines, stationed in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia — one of the biggest East Coast hubs — to head out to safer waters on Thursday to protect them from approaching Hurricane Irene.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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