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msnbc.com

The Department of Homeland Security is scrambling to marshal its resources to help blunt the potential devastation of a terror that holds no political ideology and strikes with extreme prejudice: Hurricane Isabel.

Protection of the American homeland in times of natural disaster now falls to the same department charged with deflecting terror dealt by the human hand.

“The primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to save lives and protect property, whether it’s a terrorist event or natural disaster,” Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said in a televised interview Tuesday. “While we continue to do the things on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis to combat terrorism and respond to a potential terrorist attack, we have been planning and preparing for Hurricane Isabel since the beginning of last week.”

FROM TOILETS TO ICE

And now from all the lessons learned fighting man-made terror comes a coherent game plan for deploying everything from portable toilets to Coast Guard cutters to 445,000 pounds of ice.

“M*A*S*H” style medical disaster teams and veterinary medical teams have been “pre-deployed” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is now part of DHS.

The Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team, an environmental response unit trained to tackle oil spills and other waterborne environmental disasters, has been activated.

Newly formed 100-person Maritime Safety and Security teams in Chesapeake, Va., and New York Harbor have already begun patrols near critical infrastructure facilities and stand ready to undertake rescue missions, DHS said Wednesday. The teams, equipped with special boats and training, were formed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition, the Coast Guard has 30 helicopters and fixed-wing planes pre-positioned to augment anticipated rescue and monitoring efforts of Coast Guard ships.

Emergency communication teams from as far away as Denver have been mobilized. These crews, equipped to provide telephone, radio and video links, last saw extended duty at Ground Zero in New York City, where they were in place for several months, DHS said.

Other advance responses include:

  • Thirty semi-tractor trailers loaded with 5,000 cots, 13,000 blankets, 900 sleeping bags, plastic sheeting and roofing, personal tents, hundreds of generators and 118,000 gallons of bottled water are on stand-by in North Carolina, New Jersey and Ohio. Ten more such trailers are being held in reserve for deployment to other locations on an as needed basis.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has moved ice and water to Fort Bragg, N.C., and deployed planning response teams to Philadelphia and Atlanta.
  • The Red Cross has set up two kitchens capable of providing 10,000 meals a day.

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