The U.S. Army North is working has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the coronavirus response and is now overseeing operations in Texas and California.
Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, Commander of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), spoke with Government Matters about this effort. Richardson explained that this response is bigger than what they normally encounter with disasters, so one of the biggest challenges has been making sure they got the right people to the right places.
The Fifth Army has also been preparing for the hurricane season that is beginning, and they are “watching these three storms very, very closely as they come forward,” according to Richardson. The Fifth Army is collaborating with interagency partners, FEMA, HHS, and local and state officials to prepare for the hurricanes. Making sure their capabilities can respond quickly is crucial, Richardson explained.
Richardson addressed the importance of keeping the medical providers mentally and physically ready throughout the various operations. They are brought into San Antonio, Texas or Travis Air Force Base in California and start helping the hospital staff the same day or the next morning. There are behavioral health and religious support teams that work with the force to prevent them from getting burnt out.
In anticipation of still being in a coronavirus response phase in the fall while dealing with hurricanes, Richardson stressed the importance of having PPE ready. High-water vehicles, engineer route opening, and logistics are all important.
Richardson noted that the coronavirus seems to be affecting a younger age group than it was a few months ago when she was last on the program. “We know that PPE works,” she said. At her headquarters, because they don’t have the ability to telework, they have been wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands in order to prevent the spread of the virus. “If everyone does their small part, it can make a big difference,” she stated.