ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Some 5,000 Florida National Guard troops were ready Wednesday to help residents in the wake of Hurricane Ian, a massive storm making landfall in heavily populated southwest Florida.
Florida Guard members and equipment were staged at armories and bases, with another 2,000 Guardsmen from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina activated and ready to assist if needed.
The Guard was standing by with 16 helicopters, 1,640 high-wheeled vehicles, seven boats, 36 fuel tankers and generators to conduct search and rescue operations, clear roads and support law enforcement. Florida Army National Guard’s 146th Signal Battalion was setting up a satellite system to provide voice, video and data communications in case of infrastructure damage. Guard members also were prepared to give out food and water at multiple distribution points.
"Florida Guardsmen will be providing emergency assistance to safeguard people and property alongside other first responders," said Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, Florida adjutant general.
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the Guard would respond as quickly as possible.
"We want to save as many lives as possible and really mitigate any suffering as quickly as possible," he said in an interview with The Weather Channel Sept. 27. "And so this is primarily where our assets and high-water vehicles can really get in there and control those areas where people might be trapped or in danger to try to get them to safety as quickly as possible."
Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, with winds recorded at up to 155 mph. Weather officials predicted catastrophic storm surges, rain and flooding along Florida's west coast.
Hokanson urged Florida residents to follow the guidance of local officials.
"The biggest thing we're worried about is people following their local guidance so we can reduce the number of victims," he said. "Our focus is saving lives and get people out of situations that may be potentially life-threatening."
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; Moody Air Force Base, Warner-Robins Air Force Base and Marine Corps Logistics Base–Albany — all in Georgia — would serve as federal staging areas to provide logistics support to disaster areas if needed.
Ryder said the hurricane was unlikely to affect operations at the headquarters for U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command in Tampa.
"Hurricanes hitting the state of Florida are not new," Ryder said at a Pentagon briefing. "There are very comprehensive contingency plans that are put together to address these types of eventualities to ensure that there's 24/7 connectivity and command and control capability. The bottom line is neither of those commands will miss a beat regardless of whether the storm hits in the Tampa area or not."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Florida Sept. 24. The declaration authorized FEMA to support the state's response efforts ahead of the hurricane.
The Florida National Guard and C. Todd Lopez, DOD News, contributed to this story