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CBP looked to safety of its agents as Isaac came ashore and pushes through

CBP's Isaac ICP

As Hurricane Isaac pounded the Gulf Coast region with drenching rains and 80 mile-per-hour winds the week of Aug. 27, U.S. Customs and Border Protection looked to ensure that its personnel manning ports of entry in the affected area were accounted for.

The agency said on Aug. 30 that it deployed personnel from all CBP components to an Incident Command Post (ICP) at the CBP New Orleans Air and Marine Air Branch, 45 miles north of New Orleans, as Isaac approached the area from the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week.

CBP operates a dozen ports across the stricken region. It has ports of entry in six cities in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge, Gramercy, Lake Charles, Morgan City, New Orleans-(Service Port), Shreveport-Bossier City. It operates ports in Gulfport, Pascagoula and Vicksburg , Mississippi, as well as in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile (service port), Alabama.

A Port of Entry is any designated place where a CBP officer is authorized to accept entries of merchandise to collect duties, and to enforce customs and navigation laws.

“During the first hours of Hurricane Isaac, employee accountability has been critical. We are concentrating our efforts on the safety of our employees across the region,” said Robert Gomez ICP Incident Commander. “The ICP is constantly conducting impact assessments of our personnel, our facilities and our operations.”

The ICP, in coordination with Lead Field Coordinator (LFC) Chief Rosendo Hinojosa, activated response teams that stood prepared to provide emergency assistance for employees or facilities in distress, in support of CBP’s primary mission.

The hurricane made landfall the night of Aug. 28, leaving more than 560,000 residents, mostly in Louisiana, without power. The storm inundated Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Alabama with up 14 inches of rain as it slowly moved northwards over the state. Some local forecasts for southern Alabama, southern Mississippi, and the extreme western Florida panhandle predicted isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches of precipitation.

Subsequently, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended port operations from Pensacola, FL, to Morgan City, LA as the storm moved through.

Personnel and resources from Field Operations, Border Patrol and Air and Marine, said CBP, effectively implemented a coordinated response operation to Hurricane Isaac, coordinating all components’ efforts with the LFC and the Joint Operations Directorate.

CBP encouraged its personnel encouraged to stay in contact with local management to ensure personnel accountability throughout the duration and recovery of the hurricane.

“The priority is employee accountability and the safety of their families,” said Region VI Lead Field Coordinator Rosendo Hinojosa, Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent on Aug. 29. “I was glad to hear the report from the incident commander that all CBP employees and their families have been accounted for.”

While the storm continues to push through, CBP said its assets in the impact area will remain in place until an opportunity opens to begin their assessment.

“Once the storm pushes through, our focus will not only include employee accountability and safety but business resumption activities as well as supporting requests from FEMA,” Hinojosa said.

As of Aug. 29, CBP said, eight CBP employees have deployed to support Emergency Support Function 13 Force Protection and Security Support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With heavy winds and flooding, power outages were expected. However the agency and the employees in the impact area are prepared, due to generators purchased ahead of the storm, it said.

“Though we are prepared to deliver generators to ensure we can resume operations quickly, the incident commander informed me that there could be sufficient numbers already on the ground,” Hinojosa said. “He won’t have a complete picture until after the storm, and if the assessment changes, we have the generators and other supplies ready to go.”