CBP Responds to Hurricane Irma
Without a break from Hurricane Harvey, CBP has turned its sites on Hurricane Irma which has landed blows against the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In Florida, CBP is taking preemptive action to protect employees, safeguard assets and pre-deploy resources to support response efforts. Irma is slowly moving toward Florida at 16 mph, packing winds up to 185 mph, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Irma is predicted to slam into south Florida on Saturday.
Tuesday, CBP Region IV activated its emergency operations center to prepare for what could be the fiercest Atlantic storm on record.
“CBP operations in Nassau, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are shut down,” said Eddie Alvarez, supervisory program manager for the Incident Management Division. Employees from Freeport and Nassau, were safely evacuated by the State Department.
Diane Sabatino, the director of field operations for Tampa and Miami is managing the agency’s response to Hurricane Irma as CBP’s lead field coordinator (LFC). Located at the Border Patrol’s Miami Sector headquarters in Pembroke Pines, Florida, the center will provide communications and coordination for all assets in Region IV, which covers Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands.
“Accounting for employees and ensuring their safety before and after the storm is a top priority for us,” said LFC Sabatino. “Our teams are standing by to help assist our employees to return to work as quickly and safely as possible.”
Nearly all employees in the Florida Keys have evacuated, but three decided to remain and take shelter. South Florida ports remain open, along with Miami International Airport, but they’re expected to close within the next 24 hours, LFC Sabatino said.
Ports remaining open will continue to report the number of employees who have evacuated, those taking shelter and employees on temporary duty elsewhere. “We need to account for everyone,” explained Office of Field Operations (OFO) Program Manager Gary Nellis.
Region IV already has a 35-member disaster assistance response team that was in Texas aiding federal, state, and local agencies recovering from Hurricane Harvey. This group pre-deployed to Hammond, Louisiana.
Irma spared Puerto Rico from a direct hit, but not St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, which experienced substantial damage. Ramiro Cerrillo, Ramey Sector Border Patrol chief; Johnny Morales, Caribbean Air and Marine Branch director; and Vernon Foret acting director of field operations San Juan, Puerto Rico, are heading to the island to account for employees and assets and determine what assistance may be needed, Sabatino said.
Meanwhile, employees are calling the Region IV center seeking help to prepare their homes for Irma’s devastating winds. CBP officers have responded with ladders, hammers and other tools to shutter the houses with plywood sheets, Nellis said.
“Fuel is always an issue just before and after a storm,” Sabatino said, noting that CBP’s Office of Field Operations in Florida includes more than 2,500 front-line federal officers, agricultural specialists, along with trade and mission support personnel.
Although Irma comes on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, CBP frontline personnel are trained to handle multiple storms and other natural disasters concurrently, said Dario Lugo, who manages the EOC at CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C.