Washington President Barack Obama offered moral support Saturday to federal emergency management workers hunkered down for Hurricane Irene’s weekend march up the East Coast and 14,000 active-duty and National Guard troops were put on standby for post-storm relief work.
“Everybody here, you guys are doing a great job,” Obama told dozens of workers on a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s command center. Fully activated and operating around the clock, the center helps coordinate the federal response to natural disasters.
Obama was accompanied by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and John Brennan, his assistant for homeland security.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, meanwhile, told 6,500 active-duty troops to be prepared to help after Irene passes. Panetta issued a prepare-to-deploy order for troops from all branches of the military after affected states requested possible help, spokesman George Little said.
The troops could be used for tasks such as search-and-rescue, medical help, engineering, construction and transportation, defense officials said.
At least 7,500 National Guard troops also were prepared to deploy if needed, said Maj. Gen. David Harris, director of operations for the National Guard Bureau.
At the National Response Coordination Center, Obama said he was keeping close watch on the storm. The White House said top aides had updated him on Irene before the visit to FEMA headquarters.
Obama held a conference call Saturday evening with top members of his administration including Vice President Joe Biden, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Fugate, Brennan and Napolitano. The White House said the president asked to be kept apprised of developments throughout the night and said that he wants the group to reconvene this morning.