FRANKFORT, KY -- Rushing to Kentucky after its disastrous ice storm was a FEMA strike force known as the Mobile Emergency Response System (MERS), designed to rapidly set up communications links in disaster-stricken areas.
Composed of high-tech vehicles, highly trained crews and trailers of support equipment, MERS convoys converged on Kentucky from bases at Thomasville, Ga., and Frederick, Md. Sheets of ice had snapped tree limbs, severed power lines and took out phone lines and cellular towers, leaving emergency responders without communications in large areas.
The MERS crews quickly adapted to a variety of tasks:
- Distributed batches of hand-held radios to National Guard units to facilitate the distribution of commodities that FEMA also channeled to the state.
- Worked with Kentucky Division of Emergency Management to pinpoint areas of need, then erected three portable Land Mobile Radio towers (LMR), which were quickly moved to new areas as power came back on and needs changed, aiding law enforcement, relief teams, medical professionals and others.
- Established mobile command posts in four satellite-communications trucks - Mobile Emergency Operations Vehicles - at Frankfort, the state capital, and three staging areas that received and distributed emergency meals, water and other supplies from FEMA.
- Provided rapid-patch phone and Internet service to the Kentucky National Guard and a Red Cross shelter serving some 250 occupants, many of whom had medical needs and were brought in by ambulance.
- Provided secondary support to a Civil Air Patrol mission making five-hour flights over western Kentucky with remote equipment to restore emergency radio communications to areas on the ground.
The primary mission of MERS is to set up mobile command posts for quick-response federal teams and officials who coordinate the first stages of disaster relief, such as rapid shipment of commodities to distressed areas. But MERS crews also are trained to assess unexpected needs to serve local agencies or responders who may be in desperate need of "eyes and ears on the ground."
"You tell us what you want, as far as communications, and we'll figure out a way to provide it," said Mark Hall, a FEMA MERS specialist who arrived in Paducah, Ky., in a sophisticated satellite uplink truck after hours of hard driving.
While Hall was wiring a National Guard base in western Kentucky, his supervisor Gregory Paquette was in central Kentucky conferring with David Barker of the Kentucky National Guard and Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, to make sure the mobile technology reached the neediest locations.
"This is what we live for," said Paquette, preparing to return the high-tech units after two fast-paced weeks of non-stop action. "We're here to make things work."
Six detachments of FEMA MERS are based at strategic locations across the nation. The teams deploying to Kentucky came in three convoys, bringing satellite trucks (Mobile Emergency Operations Vehicles), a smaller and higher-powered Incident Response Vehicle, trailers bearing portable radio towers and dual-axle support pickups with extra tanks for fuel.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.