The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially began on Saturday, June 1st, and already the season’s first named storm has formed. Subtropical Storm Andrea developed near Bermuda, and one report from CNN indicates the United States could experience between four–to–eight hurricanes this year.
The country has faced devastating hurricane seasons in the past several years, and although experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claim the 2019 season will most likely be closer to a “normal” season, commanders of National Guard units are already working to improve readiness.
“These are catastrophic weather events that we take very seriously,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Burkett, vice director of domestic operations at the National Guard Bureau (NGB), in a press release. “We stand ready to respond if so called.”
In New York, for example, Guard leaders and their civilian partners recently met to discuss the best way to deploy forces quickly and appropriately. The group ran tabletop response drills with a focus on “information sharing” and “information exchange” between all relevant parties. In addition to hurricane readiness, National Guard commanders discussed the best way to respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents, according to a press release. National Guard units in West Virginia recently ran similar CBRN drills with civilian partners as well, but at the NGB in Washington, hurricane preparedness is taking center stage.
“We’ve already forecasted who is going to support and how they’re going to support based on availability of forces that we have currently,” said Burkett, adding that the NGB is using “predictive force planning” to pre-plan response efforts.
However, even with the emphasis on getting Guard soldiers to disaster areas as fast as possible, National Guard units are still obligated to prepare for their federal wartime missions as well. For instance, the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team—consisting of units from Louisiana and Alabama—is currently starting month-long training rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. During this time, a large portion of Louisiana’s guardsmen will essentially be unavailable to the governor should disaster strike. The region of responsibility for the 256th consists of the western half of Louisiana and includes several coastal areas.
National Guard units have also been deployed domestically to several locations in recent months to provide aid in the aftermath of other severe weather, such as tornadoes and floods. Still, despite many Guard units being stretched thin between existing disaster relief efforts and a rigorous wartime training schedule, commanders at the NGB are confident in the force’s ability to respond to hurricanes.
“We have a pretty in-depth bench that can be called upon if needed,” General Burkett said.