"Our thoughts and prayers go out the families of the astronauts lost in this tragedy," said Brown. "FEMA has been asked to lead the federal effort to search, find, and secure debris from Columbia so that NASA can move forward with a full investigation. We are working closely with several federal agencies as well as state and local officials in Texas and Louisiana to make sure that all available resources are coordinated and used effectively in this important mission."
Brown has been in contact with Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and U.S. Defense Department officials throughout the day, and is working through the emergency management offices of Texas and Louisiana to determine what response assets have already been deployed and which additional assets might be available for the mission.
FEMA is an independent federal agency with more than 2,600 full time employees. They work at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., at regional and area offices across the country, at the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, and at the FEMA training center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. FEMA also has nearly 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees who are available to help out after disasters. Often FEMA works in partnership with other organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system. These partners include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies and the American Red Cross.
FEMA will become the Department of Homeland Security's Division for Emergency Preparedness and Response on March 1, 2003.
FEMA has coordinated the following activities:
An Interagency Initial Operating Facility (IOF) has been established at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Representatives from NASA, FEMA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Defense have assembled there to coordinate response activities.
FBI, EPA, the Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense have assigned liaisons to FEMA's Regional Operations Center in Denton, TX. FEMA has assigned state liaisons to the Texas State Emergency Operations Center and the State Command Post in Lufkin, TX.
Two Disaster Field Offices (DFOs) are in the process of being established in Lufkin, Texas, and at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The Lufkin DFO will serve as the primary operational DFO for all operations, including staging assets and deploying field teams for search, find and secure operations. Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana will serve as the investigative center and storage location.
Special Mobile Emergency Response Systems (MERS) communications equipment has been deployed to Lufkin, Texas.
EPA has deployed HAZMAT teams to collect debris, mobilized Airborne Spectral Photo-Imaging of Environmental Contaminants Technology (ASPECT) aircraft to help locate debris using infrared sensors to detect hazardous chemicals and deployed the Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer Unit to provide mobile analytical support.
The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed members of its Gulf Strike Team, based in Mobile, Alabama, to Lufkin to assist with debris recovery operations there. One of three located throughout the country, Gulf Strike Team personnel are specially trained and equipped to respond to incidents involving oil or hazardous chemical spills.