As Hurricane Isaac's fury swept the Gulf Coast states last week, many Slidell, La., residents found themselves trapped in their flooded homes without any electrical power or cell phone service.
With flood waters reaching as high as 48 inches in some areas, the city's ambulances, fire engines and police cars were unable to navigate the flooded streets to reach these helpless residents. That's when the St. Tammany Parish Emergency Operations Center turned to the Rapid Response Team from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans.
"The sheer volume of medical assistance calls and calls involving high-water evacuations throughout the city and parish were mounting," said William Black, HSI New Orleans supervisory special agent and Rapid Response Team mission coordinator. "The only way to reach many of the residences was with a high-water vehicle."
HSI New Orleans routinely works with both the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and the Louisiana State Police, so both agencies knew that HSI New Orleans' Rapid Response Team was their solution. One of 15 ICE Rapid Response Teams, their primary mission is to rapidly deploy during natural and manmade disasters, as well as emergency situations, when other federal, local or state agencies request ICE assistance.
HSI New Orleans is equipped with a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle that its Special Response Team and Rapid Response Team can deploy during emergencies. Weighing in at 30,000 pounds and standing approximately nine feet tall, this heavy-duty vehicle is well suited for emergency high-water rescue operations.
Within minutes of receiving the request, the team jumped into action. Forging through the water-logged streets of Eden Isles, which is located on Lake Pontchartrain's north shore and is an area of town prone to flooding, they rescued 12 individuals who could not evacuate their homes. After approximately five hours of combating the rainfall and storm surge, the flood waters rose above a safe operating level, and the team was forced to call off the day's rescue operations.
The next day, the parish called on the team to rescue two additional stranded individuals.
"The team members are professional special agents who volunteer to be a part of the Rapid Response Team," said Black. "When it's time to act, we act without hesitation."
ICE's Rapid Response Teams are operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are always prepared to deploy to an affected area within 12 to 24 hours.