For several days in early October, Hurricane Matthew battered the southeast and prompted President Obama to declare it a disaster area. The storm left its mark with thousands of people displaced, homes and businesses flooded and destroyed, trees, power lines and debris fallen, beaches eroded and colossal power outages.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) from Detroit, Newark, New York, National Capital Region and New Orleans responded and assisted in the Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.
Detroit RRT completed several missions while deployed including the security escort of a fuel tanker and residence checks of several ICE employees. Commander Koszut said: “Our job in going down there was to assist all the ICE employees affected by the Hurricane to assure continuity of operations and to make sure everyone was safe.”
St. Simon’s Island was closed to the public, but the Detroit RRT was able to navigate the fallen debris and perform checks on ICE employees’ residences. The RRT cleared trees and debris enabling employees to return to their homes. “Because ICE employees were away from home and had no visibility,” said Commander Koszut, “they didn’t know if it was safe to return to their houses; our team made sure they could go home and go back to work.”
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) activated the Emergency Support Functions – 13, Law Enforcement Support and requested the activation of ICE HSI RRTs to assist with recovery efforts. ICE responded by providing 50 HSI special agents in order to provide site security and force protection.
While on a mission assignment in Lumberton and Kinston, North Carolina areas, the RRTs supported Pennsylvania’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Force 1 including: conducting boat operations to residences to assist with the rescue of adults and canines from flooded areas, conducting vehicle rescues of adults submerged in flood water, and providing assistance to the Kinston General Aviation where the teams were able to observe the flooded areas from the air.
The HSI Emergency Management Unit located at ICE headquarters provided the RRTs with overall critical logistical support and reporting mechanisms including: coordinating the combined response of HSI RRTs with other teams activated by FEMA, providing additional gear and equipment necessary to complete their assignment, and implementing the AtHoc mobile application to the Emergency Notification System onto the deployed individuals telephones for real time reporting of their status and/or significant events to increase the capability to send simultaneous notifications to all deployed individuals.
The ICE HSI RRTs proved that their motto, “Anytime, Anywhere,” is true. They responded quickly and effectively to a dangerous situation, worked collaboratively with other federal agencies and saved lives.