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Federal Response Teams Assisting in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

Release date: 
September 24, 2017
Release Number: 
HQ-17-138

WASHINGTON – In the wake of Hurricane Maria, life, personal safety, and access to safe shelters for disaster survivors remain a priority of local responders, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the entire federal family.

To aid in life sustaining missions, six FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces are deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and are working in tandem with numerous federal partners to rescue and render aid to distressed survivors in the region.  Additional FEMA US&R task forces are arriving today to expand operations, as areas become accessible. FEMA US&R task forces currently conducting operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands include Virginia Task Forces 1 and 2, Florida Task Forces 1 and 2, and California Task Forces 6 and 7. Components of New York Task Force 1 and Massachusetts Task Force 1 are on the ground providing logistics support.

Federal partners assisting with Search and Rescue (SAR) missions include the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Department of the Interior / National Park Service.

Collectively, these federal agencies have rescued 180 individuals and searched more than 45 structures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

five men in uniform stand around the hood of a car and look at a piece of paper

FEMA Urban Search and Rescue task force members meet with local officials on St. Croix to coordinate search and rescue operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard is operating nine cutters in the vicinity of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, bringing helicopter SAR support, while teams from CBP are operating two P-3 maritime patrol aircraft to assist in communications, a wide-area search, and distress signal monitoring capabilities. An additional five flight deck-equipped cutters, five patrol boats, four rotary wing, and one fixed wing aircraft are moving to the vicinity of U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to further support search and rescue efforts.

While US&R teams continue targeted sweeps of the affected areas, teams from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management are providing security and force protection to rescuers.

Department of Defense support includes helicopter SAR flights, damage assessment flights, beach assessments, and patient evacuation flights flown from the amphibious ships USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill and Marines embarked from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

FEMA US&R teams are organized under the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System, which partners federal, state and local partner emergency response teams to create 28 US&R task forces. These 28 task forces are located throughout the continental United States and can be activated to provide assistance in survivor rescue, damage assessment, and SAR in a water environment. The task forces deployed consist of multi-faceted, and cross-trained personnel who service in major functional areas to include: search, rescue, medical, hazardous materials, logistics, and planning. A task force also includes technical specialists, such as physicians, structural engineers, and canine search teams.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the DoD conducted medical evacuations for more than 100 patients from the islands to the continental United States.

The National Guard Bureau (NGB) has more than 2,300 Guard members on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands taking part in security and support operations. The Air National Guard is focused on transporting food, water, and communications capabilities as well as rapidly increasing airlift into affected areas.

FEMA, working in coordination with federal partners, provided more than 1.5-million meals, 1.1-million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for distribution to the public since Hurricane Maria’s landfall.

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Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 11:59