In Cold War bomb shelter, FEMA coordinates Harvey response

Teams deploy assets from air ambulances to Coast Guard crews, 200 miles away from the disaster zone.

DENTON, Texas - Past a 13-ton orange blast door, two stories underground, members of the military, Red Cross and FEMA assemble in a bunker operating since the Cold War, directing the federal emergency response to Tropical Storm Harvey.

The site is known as the FEMA Regional Response Coordination Center, where teams deploy assets from air ambulances to Coast Guard crews, 200 miles away from the disaster zone.

The command center drives federal disaster teams across five states: Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas.

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In an interview Thursday, one of the leading figures in charge of the site, Ret. Army Col. Laverm Young, said FEMA faces an overarching challenge - anticipating the needs of Texas and Louisiana, as Harvey's toxic floodwater refuses to release 29 counties from its grip.

"Those areas will be facing incredibly dangerous conditions for weeks, and we have to be at the right place at the right time," Young said. "When we have areas that are difficult to get to, it's a top priority to predict where we need to be, to help those who have suffered so much."

Teams arrived by bus at the North Texas site for days - a sign language interpreter from Ohio, a logistics specialist from Maryland, and defense personnel who had only passed through the Pentagon last week.

They all reported to the coordination center about an hour's drive north of Dallas, and if called upon, will head to the Gulf Coast to meet the devastation head-on.

"We don't know when we'll go, but we all expect to be there at some point," said a volunteer who flew in from Cincinnati hours earlier. "I don't know when I'll be home, but I count on the team here to have my back."

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Their moves will be tracked in real time from the bunker, in rooms that have been disaster-ready for decades. Lyndon B. Johnson served as a main advocate for the site, seen in photographs along the bunker walls surveying the land before the structure's opening in 1964.

Fifty-eight feet underground, teams within a West-Wing style situation room monitor conditions across hundreds of square miles. A setting where sense of place has little impact on teams striving for preparation and precision.

"One of the most important things we can do, is never be late," Young said. "And it doesn't matter what organization you're from. I think the American people expect its emergency responders to be there for them."

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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