WASHINGTON – Even though hundreds of Maryland’s National Guard troops are currently stationed overseas, state officials said they expect to have enough manpower to deal with any problems in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.
About 2,000 of the state’s 8,000 guardsmen were already on active duty before Gov. Robert Ehrlich declared a state of emergency and called up the Guard in preparation for the hurricane.
But most of those on active-duty status are serving at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Andrews Air Force Base or other military facilities in the state, said Maj. Charles Kohler, Maryland National Guard spokesman. Only about 40 percent of them are stationed overseas, he said, with 300 soldiers currently serving in Iraq.
Kohler said it is too early to say how many soldiers will be needed, or where. But he noted that during February’s blizzard, the last statewide emergency the Guard was involved with, the state called up about 500 soldiers.
“Primarily, we were involved in emergency transportation,” in February, when troops transported patients for dialysis and other essential care, Kohler said. They also removed snow from Baltimore City streets.
Officials are taking a wait-and-see approach with Isabel, making Guard troops available to move when and where they are needed.
“It’s really going to be driven based on what’s happening,” Kohler said.
“We’re planning on repositioning soldiers to areas that are hit hardest,” he said. “And that’s not uncommon to do that in operations, to plan on moving your forces as necessary.”
But the Guard will have help: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is aiding Maryland and other states in Isabel’s path, dispatching emergency-response crews and disaster-relief supplies throughout areas affected by the storm, according to a news release.
FEMA is also coordinating emergency-response efforts with the Red Cross, which had activated a “hurricane watch team” Wednesday, said Ruth L. Tyler, a spokeswoman for the central Maryland chapter.
The Hurricane Watch Team “monitors hurricanes and plans, prepares and mobilizes both human and material resources before a hurricane hits,” said Kevin Burr, emergency services director for the Baltimore-based chapter, in a printed statement.
The Red Cross is also working with the Guard to coordinate disaster-relief efforts.
Power companies were also preparing to respond to outages caused by downed power lines. Pepco, which came under heavy criticism recently when storms left some Montgomery County residents without power for several days, cautioned customers to prepare for outages.
Utility crews from other states were arriving in Maryland as early as Wednesday, as power companies planned to work around the clock to deal with outages.
The storm disrupted many routines even before rain began falling Thursday. Washington’s Metro system stopped bus and subway service at 11 a.m., and MARC commuter trains did not run at all. Federal government employees were given the day off, and most school systems closed rather than gamble with Isabel.