Friday, February 5, 2010

National Guard Preps for East Coast Snowmageddon

In this file photo, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mannarino of the Wisconsin National Guard hooks up a chain to pull snowplow from a snow bank, Dec. 9, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn R. Larson.)

On the Home Front:

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 5, 2010 -- Schools are closing, weekend activities are being cancelled and the federal government here will shut down four hours early today, but the National Guard is on duty in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia in anticipation of a major winter storm.

About 660 Guardsmen have been activated for a storm that is expected to dump up to 28 inches of snow and bring high winds to the northern and western parts of Virginia and then continue north up the East Coast this weekend.

"This storm will bring severe weather to many parts of Virginia,” said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. “As the storm affects your area, please stay off the roads and contact local authorities if help is needed."

McDonnell declared a state of emergency Feb. 3, and the state’s Department of Military Affairs is staging more than 400 personnel from the Virginia Army and Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force at key locations in the commonwealth.

If needed, the DMA will bring an additional 100 personnel on duty when the weather picture and state and local support requirements become clearer, according to a news release from the state.

“We are moving DMA personnel into position in order to be on standby for possible missions to assist state and local emergency response organizations with rescue and transportation operations,” said Army Col. Rob McMillin, a Virginia National Guard joint operations officer.

Personnel were expected to be in place yesterday and to be ready for duty this morning, Guard officials reported.

McMillin stressed that the Virginia National Guard receives its missions through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to assist state and local emergency response organizations and is not able to respond to direct support requests from the public.

“During the winter storm in December 2009, we received calls directly from citizens, and we are not able to respond to those requests.” McMillin said. “We urge people who need assistance to make a request through their local dispatcher or 911 services, and that request will be forwarded to the DMA when appropriate.”

McMillin said the initial plan is to place Virginia National Guard personnel with Humvees on duty at locations throughout the commonwealth.

This is the third time since the middle of December the DMA has called up Guardsmen for weather-related duty. The DMA had nearly 250 soldiers, airmen and members on duty throughout southern Virginia on Jan. 29 and 700 on duty after a storm that began Dec. 18.

In Maryland, the National Guard has pre-positioned its forces and equipment to provide support to civil authorities. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to declare a state emergency later today.

“The Maryland National Guard always stands ready to support the governor and the citizens of Maryland,” said Army Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, the state public affairs officer. “We provide essential, lifesaving services when local and state response capabilities are overwhelmed, including the capability to provide transportation, shelter, food, water and medical support.

He added that the National Guard has 34 armories across Maryland that also will be used to support this ongoing operation.

In the District of Columbia, Washington Mayor Andrew Fenty declared a snow emergency this morning. The National Guard will provide 12 Humvees and 60 soldiers to help in implementing the district’s Snow Emergency Management Plan.

In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is prepared to declare a state of emergency, his spokesman said. If needed, the Delaware National Guard will be mobilized.

In South Dakota, 16 Guardsmen are still on duty helping to re-establish road and utility infrastructure and conduct search-and-rescue operations as required by local authorities. The state experienced strong winter storms with high winds, snow, and freezing rain on Jan. 23, and more than 2,000 residents are currently without power throughout the state.

National Guard missions normally performed during snow operations include assisting local law enforcement with transportation and evacuation, distribution of supplies, road clearing and snow removal, search and rescue, security and law enforcement airspace coordination, aircraft support and patient evacuations, airspace coordination, and sheltering assistance.

(Report by Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, National Guard Bureau with contributions by Army Maj. Cotton Puryear of the Virginia National Guard.)

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