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NEWS | May 10, 2024

Fort Buchanan prepares for hurricane season

By Carlos Cuebas U.S. Army Garrison Fort Buchanan

Leaders and staff members conducted a tabletop exercise on May 1 at the Puerto Rico National Guard compound to coordinate the response of the only United States Army installation on the island and the Caribbean, using as a scenario the possible impact of a category five hurricane.

The event, which was shared virtually with Department of Defense agencies in the continental United States, incorporated several federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, the 81st Readiness Division, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, Army Reserve, National Guard, and Army North.

"This exercise is very important. At Fort Buchanan, our emergency plans are designed to ensure that units on the installation can carry out their mission in support of Puerto Rico, if necessary. To do this, we need a shared understanding and closer interagency relationships before the emergency," said Col. Charles N. Moulton, commander of Fort Buchanan.

The exercise began with a National Weather Service briefing.

"This season, we could have 15 to 25 storms, a much higher number than normal. It is undoubtedly going to be a hyperactive season. At the National Weather Service, we provide critical information to Fort Buchanan leaders so they can make decisions before, during, and after the storm. For example, it is important that you keep in mind that generally after a storm, we receive heat waves that can affect the personnel working in recovery operations," said Ernesto Rodriguez, a representative of the National Weather Service.

The exercise pursued three main objectives: the exhaustive review of checklists across the different organizations, identifying the requirements of other agencies participating in the emergency, and reinforcing collaboration procedures between all parties.

To achieve these objectives, the drill was divided into three phases: 24 hours before the arrival of the hurricane, 48 hours after landfall, and beyond 48 hours. Each installation directorate and agency had to describe in detail what actions they would take in each phase of the exercise.

For example, during the 24 hours before the hurricane, Fort Buchanan's human resources directorate emphasized accounting for personnel, including military personnel, civilian employees, families, and federal contractors.

The exercise was extremely useful for the Federal Emergency Management Agency representative.

"Everything we do to prepare and plan for hurricane season is enormously beneficial. Here, I have already met people with whom I have worked with during previous disasters in Puerto Rico. But there are new participants. That is why getting to know all team members before the disaster is necessary. This exercise is much needed," said Kevin Edwards of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 2.

For the representative of the Army North, Fort Buchanan plays a fundamental role in the possible response of the Department of Defense in support of local authorities during an emergency.

"Fort Buchanan plays a key role for the Department of Defense by hosting military units here, including the Army Reserve and National Guard, which carry out the Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission. Military installations are where federal authorities regularly seek support during emergencies," said William Bodt, Emergency Management Specialist for the Department of Defense coordination office at the Army North.

At the end of the drill, the team evaluated the existing coordination between all agencies.

"We hope that executing what we have practiced here today will not be necessary. But if it is, today we are in a better position to face whatever comes and to facilitate the help that military units can offer the island," said Moulton.

With an annual investment in the local economy of over $500 million, Fort Buchanan serves a diverse military community comprised of approximately 15,000 active duty, Reserve, National Guard, Marine Corps Reserve, and Navy Reserve personnel.

The military installation also offers critical services to the Department of Defense civilian population, veterans, retirees, and their families, as well as more than 30 federal agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.