BORSTAR Helping get Back into Service; Transportation Improves
Another 15-member Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) and Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) team arrived in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, yesterday to augment teams already in the field that continue to check on employees and their families. In all, at least 60 agents are canvassing devastated neighborhoods. At the same time, another BORSTAR team is assessing hospitals.
Assessments reveal what’s needed to bring a hospital into full operation again, BORSTAR Agent and paramedic Brett Becker said. Damaged power grids and washed out roads have forced the hospitals, some as large as 200 rooms, to either shut down or stop accepting patients, said Becker.
The team looks at each facility’s ability to do surgery, perform CT scans, and keep a laboratory functioning. “Without power, a hospital can become a breeding ground for bacteria,” Becker said. Agents are finding hospitals lacking supplies, many without power or with partial power and short of help since impassible roads or no fuel for vehicles is preventing medical staff from reporting to work.
The agents are also assisting hospitals with restocking medical supplies by using satellite telephones to place orders with vendors.
Landslides are a big problem. They block roads and isolate entire neighborhoods in the island’s interior. “A lot of the towns haven’t seen anyone [officials] since Hurricane Irma,” said Border Patrol Agent Supervisor Matthew Curnoles.
Those conditions became evident on Sept. 30 when BORSTAR Agent Paul Grover was traveling on an Air and Marine Operations AS350 A-Star helicopter assessing the countryside when the crew noticed “we need a way out” painted on the road. They circled and spotted people waving. After landing they came across about 20 residents and the crew supplied them with food and water. They then returned with more supplies, he said.
As of Oct. 2, the date of the latest information, 1,604 CBP employee well-being checks were conducted throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and AMO completed 127 relief missions, reported the Emergency Operations Center at CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C.
There’s now a fleet of MD80, MD83, Boeing 767 and Illyusin heavy-lift charter aircraft shuttling passengers between San Juan and Miami and cargo from Homestead to San Juan. The Illyusin is one of the world’s largest transports.
Overall, getting supplies to Puerto Rico continues to be a top priority. Currently, nearly 600 generators are on a vessel making their way to the island by sea. More than 100 fuel trucks and as many drivers are now available to move fuel, easing Puerto Rico’s fuel shortage.
Power outages have closed banks and wiped out the digital connections used to transfer money or record business transactions. To assist the battered Puerto Rican economy, CBP’s finance office is now providing government cash to agents and officers authorized to make relief purchases.
Not all CBP assistance is in Puerto Rico. There’s still plenty of cleanup happening in the Florida Keys, according to Geoffrey Ord, a Surge Capacity Force volunteer from the National Targeting Center.
He described obliterated neighborhoods, particularly in Marathon and Big Pine Keys, littered with smashed, grimy homes topped with tree branches, seaweed, broken boats and ocean debris and roadways lined with mountains of collected trash, branches, destroyed appliances, furniture and parts of houses. On Sept. 26, residents were allowed to return. “We need to get these folks connected to the world,” he said.
Ord spends his days canvassing neighborhoods in oppressive heat looking for residents needing assistance—emergency supplies, medical attention, shelter and the like. He represents CBP on a FEMA team that moves to different locations almost daily. “We stay packed up and live out of our backpacks,” Ord said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.