FEMA second in command sent to Alaska

FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Willie Nunn, Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Mike Sutton and FEMA Alaska State Liaison Officer Robert Forgit discuss the response and recovery from the earthquake which occurred on November 30, 2018.


The rule of thumb in any disaster is that it’s a local incident, until it’s too big and it becomes a state incident, until the state asks the Feds for help, and then — and only then — does the Federal government get involved.

With Alaska’s 7.0 earthquake, Gov. Bill Walker quickly declared a state disaster and asked the White House to do the same, releasing funds to make essential repairs to damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The president responded quickly: “To the Great people of Alaska. You have been hit hard by a ‘big one.’ Please follow the directions of the highly trained professionals who are there to help you. Your Federal Government will spare no expense. God Bless you ALL!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The response from the Federal  Friday night, FEMA had dispatched one of the agency’s top experts, Peter Gaynor, who flew to Alaska and headed for the State Emergency Operations Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Gaynor is the deputy administrator in Washington, D.C., and accompanying him was Region 10 FEMA Administrator Mike O’Hare from Bothell, Washington.

O’Hare is a longtime Alaskan who served in emergency management under the Palin and Parnell Administration and knows the state well, having managed numerous disaster responses in his time in Alaska.

“Alaskans are resilient people. They know that earthquakes can happen at any time and they are prepared,” said O’Hare. “FEMA staff on the ground and those we have mobilized to assist all stand ready to support the state, tribes and villages that have been affected by this earthquake.”

The federal emergency declaration by President Trump opens up federal relief money to Alaska. Following damage assessment, this could be upgraded to a federal major disaster declaration, which would make additional federal funds available to the state. FEMA has also offered to make high level Federal Incident Management teams available to Alaska, if required.

In approving Gov. Walker’s request for an immediate Emergency Declaration, FEMA can release resources to supplement state, tribal and local efforts to respond to emergency conditions in the areas affected by the earthquake. The designated areas under the Emergency Declaration are the Municipality of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula Borough and Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Willie G. Nunn of FEMA has been named as the federal coordinating officer for federal response operations for this disaster. He, too, arrived in Anchorage late Friday to oversee FEMA’s coordination of federal response efforts.

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young on Friday received a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski make statements on Friday regarding the earthquake that struck Southcentral Alaska on Friday morning.

“It’s been mere hours since this devastating earthquake took place in Alaska, but the delegation is very engaged with the situation. We are in the very initial stages of understanding the extent, but we know there has been significant damage to homes, roads, infrastructure, and schools. The impact is very real and will require a great deal of recovery and effort, but I have been assured that Alaskans will have what they need to deal with and recover from this very serious earthquake,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “Alaskans are incredibly resilient but that doesn’t mean that when you’re hit with something of this intensity it doesn’t have a substantial and devastating impact. The message I want to convey to friends, family, and Alaskans across the state is that we are on top of this. It’s important to me that Alaskans know that even though they are 4,000 miles away from our nation’s capital– we have all eyes on them and we are preparing mightily to address this disaster.”

“As Alaskans, we are resilient and there is no question in my mind we will come out of this natural disaster as a stronger, more resolute people,” said Senator Sullivan. “The damage on the ground, particularly to our transportation infrastructure, is significant and we’ve already begun the process to ensure Alaskans receive the full and unwavering support of the federal government. We have already received serious commitments from the leadership of the federal government – the President, Vice President, the FEMA Administrator, Secretary of Transportation and on down the line. As Alaskans begin the long road to recovery, we are focused on making sure every element of federal power, authority and funding is brought to bear on getting Alaska back up and running as soon as possible.”

“This natural disaster has been devastating for thousands of Alaskans, however, I am encouraged by the immediate response from FEMA, this Administration and our state officials,” said Congressman Young. “This earthquake represents one of the many challenges we face in Alaska but we can always rebuild and we are starting that process now. I want to thank all of the people who have reached out. My heart goes out to all of the Alaskans that are dealing with the aftermath. In this delegation, we all have family back in Alaska and we are grateful for their safety. We will continue to work together as a team to ensure federal assistance is available for Alaskans.”