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Gustav Response

FBI Part of Joint Federal Response to Gustav

09/05/08

At the end of August, more than two million people evacuated their homes before Hurricane Gustav came bearing down on the Louisiana coast. While forecasters were plotting the storm’s course, the federal government was ramping up its response and activating agencies that might be needed to help in the wake of a natural disaster. The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies were included in that response.

Members of the government’s ESF-13 group responding to Hurricane Gustav
Above left, members of the government’s ESF-13 group responding to Hurricane Gustav, including a representative of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group; right, a tree downed by Gustav.

On August 31, agents assigned to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and the Technical Response Unit rushed to Louisiana to take part in a joint federal response to Gustav in support of Emergency Support Function 13 (or ESF-13), part of the government’s overall National Response Plan. ESF-13, is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, and enables federal law enforcement to assist other federal, state, and local authorities during an “Incident of National Significance.”

During Gustav, the ESF-13 group was housed in a mammoth former department store in the middle of downtown Baton Rouge; it was the same building used as a joint field office by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We were walking into the same place, and facing a situation that everyone feared would be similar to Katrina,” said CIRG Supervisory Special Agent Matt Chapman. Chapman knew what he was talking about—when Katrina hit he was serving as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s New Orleans office.

Hurricane Katrina, of course, was on everyone’s mind. FEMA and other federal agencies took the lessons learned during Katrina and applied them to Gustav with a more proactive approach to the impending disaster. Now, agencies under the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are all put on stand-by and readied for deployment when a storm could potentially make landfall in the United States.

During Gustav, the FBI deployed its “Blue Whale,” a large tractor trailer that doubles as a mobile field office, complete with secure communications capabilities and office space. The “Whale,” and its companion tactical vehicles, were also used during Hurricane Katrina to keep operations up and running.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jeff Stirling, who normally works out of that agency’s Columbus, Ohio office, said, “We weren’t sure how the events would play out with this storm, so we wanted to make sure we were prepared for everything.” During the emergency response to Gustav, the ATF was the lead for coordinating federal law enforcement.

The ESF-13 mission received several requests for assistance after the storm made landfall, and continues to fully support each of these missions.

The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group was set up in 1994 to respond to crisis incidents, using tactical and investigative resources for situations which require an immediate response from law enforcement authorities.