Leadership Corner

Forest Service hurricane updates

September 13th, 2018 at 2:45PM

Photo: Portrait of Vicki Christiansen in front of American & Forest Service flags.
Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

It’s that time of year when peak wildfires overlap with hurricane season and the Forest Service has its eyes on both coasts to support response and recovery.  Currently, we are all tracking the severe weather with Hurricane Florence arriving in the East, as well as Tropical Storm Isaac affecting the Caribbean Islands, to include Puerto Rico, and Tropical Storm Olivia in Hawaii. At the same time there are nearly 13,000 interagency personnel deployed to 80 wildfires across the West.

We are mindful there are still locations and employees who continue to recover from last year’s hurricane season. I know that it’s not just weathering the storm, but the impacts to employees and communities well after the storm has passed that make this time of year difficult.

With all this happening at once, it’s more critical than ever to take care of ourselves, each other and our families. At work we are placing heightened attention on internal coordination and coordination with all of our external partners. The moving parts in hurricane response and recovery, but also active wildfire management, are extremely complex. So thank you for everything you are doing.

Florence’s status is continually changing, but what we know for sure is we need to be prepared for high winds, flooding and surge damage along the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. FEMA is shifting resources to adjust to the change in storm trajectory. In addition to Florence, Isaac is moving in through the Lesser Antilles Thursday. It is expected to remain at tropical storm intensity.

Some recreation areas and administrative offices in the Southern Region and Southern Research Station are already closed, and the region and station are monitoring and adjusting as needed. We are waiving campground fees in areas that will not be affected so that evacuees can consider those locations as they choose where to shelter during and after the storm. Employee wellness checks are the highest priority, and the region is prepared to conduct them as quickly as possible.

USDA Forest Service personnel have reviewed our hurricane preparedness plans and are ready to implement. We are closely coordinating with FEMA, the Southern Region, Southern Research Station, states and other federal agencies to ensure the best support possible to affected communities. Currently, we are in charge of coordinating all Federal Emergency Support Function #4 activities. This includes interagency firefighting personnel, equipment and supplies mobilized in support of FEMA’s response efforts under the National Response Framework.

We do have one Forest Service Quick Response Team of 31 Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigation personnel who are staged and ready to assist in Charlotte, North Carolina. After the storm passes we will continue to be at the ready to assist FEMA in recovery efforts.

Employees and the public can stay connected to all Florence response and recovery efforts via the Southern Region Twitter account: @USFSRegion8

We will continue monitoring conditions on both coasts and beyond in order to best allocate resources and update employees. We will maintain safety and strong customer service across USDA and other federal agencies. Thank you all for your work during this difficult time. Your safety is our highest priority. Please take care of yourselves and your families.