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NEWS | June 17, 2024

U.S. Army North, National Guard, FEMA train for hurricane response

By Capt. Tara Santon and 1st Lt. Karlee Skaggs U.S. Army North Public Affairs

More than 150 military and civilian partners joined the U.S. Army North in person and virtually for a Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) Drill on June 4.

“We are being watched every day to see how we handle these types of crises,” said Lt. Gen. John R. Evans Jr., U.S. Army North commander. “The more decisive we are in our response, the more pause that gives [the enemy] when trying to stir something up in the homeland.”

The rehearsal coordinated local, state and federal response efforts to prepare for hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released projections of 17 to 25 named storms in 2024, a 75 percent increase from the 30-year average. Major contributors to these conditions include La Niña and above-average ocean temperatures.

In the ROC drill’s first scenario, Hurricane Alberto struck the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm and then hit the Virginia coast while a second storm system, Hurricane Beryl, impacted the Gulf Coast.

“The islands are virtually unprotected from the big storms. When they get hit, regardless of the magnitude, it’s always a big mess,” Evans told rehearsal participants. “We’ve got to be ready to respond.”

FEMA Region II includes the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, New York, and New Jersey, which are separated by over 1,600 miles. 

“A litany of disasters have impacted Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the last seven years,” said FEMA Region II Administrator David Warrington. “There has been damage to infrastructure and hardship for people.”

The Virgin Islands is the smallest National Guard unit out of all 54 states and territories, with only 800 Army and Air Guard personnel. They also lack organic aviation assets, complicating transportation and limiting supply access during disaster response.

“The ROC drill is an opportunity to articulate our unique requirements,” said U.S. Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, the adjutant general of the Virgin Islands National Guard.

Knox-Limbacker said the 2019 ROC drill was instrumental in the Hurricane Dorian response. That drill, held just three months before the hurricane, allowed for a rapid and effective relief effort.

“Because of the ROC drill, we knew who to call and who to talk to,” Knox-Limbacker said. “Our partners were aware of our gaps and ensured our needs were met. Our response to Hurricane Dorian went as rehearsed. Every year, that response becomes more refined.”

Since 2005, U.S. Army North, U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Force Land Component Command, has supported more than 40 tropical storms and hurricanes, including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Harvey, Irma, Maria and Dorian.