Army systems to support Katrina disaster relief

The First U.S. Army has deployed three disaster coordination teams equipped with satellite communications equipment to help federal relief efforts in Gulf Coast states hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Army Lt. Col. Richard Steele, a spokesman for the First U.S. Army, said the Defense Coordinating Elements teams deployed to Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. Each team has as many as 30 people. They are equipped with handheld Iridium satellite phones and military single channel tactical satellite communications terminals for voice communications.

The First U.S. Army handles disaster response east of the Mississippi River while the Fifth U.S. Army handles that mission west of the river, Steele said.

The Defense Coordinating Elements teams are also equipped with Inmarsat terminals and video teleconferencing systems made by U.K.-based Scotty Group, Steele said. A team deployed to Baton Rouge, La., has similar satellite communications capabilities.

The teams will handle requests for military support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials and pass on those requests to military officials. If they approve the requests, the teams will then control and manage any military assets or systems sent to the disaster areas.

Col. James Hickey, chief of staff for the First U.S. Army, said satellite communications are often critical in a hurricane’s aftermath. “One of the things we learned last year with the series of hurricanes that passed through Florida was the need for satellite communications,” Hickey said.

“This storm will likely take out some key communications nodes, and cell phones and landlines may not work for some time,” he added.

Steele said FEMA has requested the use of four bases in its area of operation for use as mobilization and staging suites. They are the Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss.; Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Duke Field, Fla.; and Homestead Air Force Base, Fla.

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