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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Insular Affairs
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President Obama's Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Arrives in American Samoa



Date: October 1, 2009
Contact: Lydia Faleafine-Nomura (684) 733-5085
Tanya Harris Joshua (202) 208-6008

Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Anthony M. Babauta joins FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Kenneth Tingman and U.S. Congressman from American Samoa Eni Faleomavaega for a briefing with Governor Togiola Tulafono.

Pago Pago, American Samoa (Thursday, October 1, 2009) - Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Anthony M. Babauta arrived today in Pago Pago, American Samoa by U.S. military aircraft, which brought supplies to the earthquake and tsunami-stricken U.S. territory.  

“I am deeply saddened to see how much damage the tsunami has caused,” said Mr. Babauta, “however I am heartened by the courageous people of American Samoa who have rallied around Governor Togiola Tulafono as first responders from FEMA, the U.S. military, HHS, National Park Service, the Red Cross and others have arrived and begun their initial assessments.”

An aggressive federal response, coordinated by FEMA and drawing on numerous federal partners, is currently underway to address the immediate needs of the survivors of Tuesday’s tsunami. On Tuesday night, within hours of receiving a request from Governor Togiola, President Obama signed a Disaster Declaration for American Samoa.  Life sustaining supplies including food, water, sheltering materials and medical supplies have begun to arrive on island and will continue being airlifted into the territory.

Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Anthony M. Babauta joins FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Kenneth Tingman and U.S. Congressman from American Samoa Eni Faleomavaega for a briefing with Governor Togiola Tulafono.

 As the senior member of the Obama Administration responsible for the oversight of federal policy and programs in the insular areas and freely associated states, Mr. Babauta has traveled to this grief-stricken insular area to personally bring the President’s condolences to fellow Americans for losses suffered in the September 29th earthquake and tsunami.

While on Guam, Mr. Babauta received a phone call from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar who asked that Mr. Babauta make his way as quickly as possible to American Samoa.

“I have cut short my official travel in Guam and to the Northern Mariana Islands,” said Mr. Babauta, “to see what Interior can do to support relief efforts that American Samoa already has underway.  Also, I want to share that the good people of the U.S. insular areas and freely associated states convey their condolences.”

Mr. Babauta is accompanied by Nikolao I. Pula Jr., the Director of the Office of Insular Affairs.

When he returns to Washington, Mr. Babauta will report to Secretary Salazar what further steps the Department of the Interior can take to help in coordinating American Samoa’s recovery with FEMA.

With Interior as chair of the federal Interagency Group on Insular Areas, Mr. Babauta will work with his counterparts in the Executive branch to help advance the restoration of American Samoa.

Before leaving Honolulu, Mr. Babauta announced that Interior will provide American Samoa with an assessment of local fire department needs including other services:

Office of Emergency Management
DOI is represented at the FEMA National Response Coordination Center by staff members of the Office of Emergency Management and the Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance.  The Interior Operations Center is operating with enhanced staffing and is conducting daily Emergency Management Council meetings.  Two members of the Incident Support Team are being deployed to the Interior Operations Center for additional support.  The Office of Insular Affairs and U.S. Geological Survey have representatives in the Interior Operations Center.

National Park Service - Pacific West Region

About two dozen National Park Service (NPS) specialists will arrive in American Samoa today to work with FEMA and the fifteen, current NPS employees on Tutuila to assess damage to NPS facilities and resources and to assist with continuing recovery efforts.  The NPS staff members are part of the NPS Western Incident Management Team, Critical Incident Stress Management group and other support staff. These NPS staff members will also work to assist with the broader FEMA-led recovery operation.

NPS staff members have assisted the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) with rescue and recovery operations on-island and are engaged in assessing and providing for the well-being of NPS employees and volunteers.  Resource and facilities damage assessments are in progress, salvaging equipment and cultural resources and securing NPS property from looters.  NPS staff members will work to assist with the broader FEMA-led recovery operation.  Special Agent Akana was the first NPS staff member to arrive from outside American Samoa.  Special Agent Akana has been acting as the NPS representative at the FEMA Unified Command Team meetings comprised of responders and the American Samoa Government.  Today Special Agent Akana is participating in a law enforcement assessment of American Samoa.  NPS has on stand-by for deployment an eleven-member Special Event and Tactical Team if the American Samoa Government requests additional law enforcement resources through Emergency Support Function No. 13 or at NPS’ own initiative in order to protect NPS assets.

Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Special Agent Akana are preparing for the arrival of the eleven-member Western Incident Management Team, two Critical Incident Stress Management staff members and other support staff members, who will arrive in American Samoa by some time on Friday, October 2nd, SST.  A team of three Cultural Resource Assessment and Recovery Team Specialists will assist with the assessment and recovery of cultural resources in the National Park of American Samoa and will likely assist with the broader recovery efforts in the insular area.

Once immediate life safety and basic support systems are well established, NPS will send a four-to-six-person Natural Resource Damage Assessment Team to assess the impacts to submerged resources at the National Park of American Samoa.  NPS’ current focus is on the employees and the resources of the National Park of American Samoa, although all of the resources that NPS has on site, including employees and volunteers at the National Park of American Samoa, are available to some degree for the larger insular recovery effort.

National Park Service - Washington, D.C., Office
The Branch of Emergency Services is working with FEMA, USCG and the Department of Defense to coordinate any requests for Search and Rescue assets under Emergency Support Function No. 9, whose Administration coordinators are the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.  Two FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams, a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Incident Management Team and the NPS Land Search and Rescue Incident Management Team are at an advisory level. There are no requests at this time from the American Samoa Government for assistance.  The NPS Emergency Incident Coordination Center is filling requests for resources as needed and operating at an enhanced staffing level.  A request to support the Western Incident Management Team and the National Park of American Samoa with Critical Incident Stress Management staff members was processed, and staff members have been allocated for the mission.

The Branch of Emergency Services will work with Regional Emergency Coordinators and Regional Chief Rangers to facilitate any additional resources as requested.  In American Samoa, the Branch of Emergency Services coordinates with the NPS Office of Public Health, while FEMA provides the management of overall logistical response, based on the life-safety mission priority.

Bureau of Reclamation
Reclamation is tracking events as they unfold in the Pacific as a result of the tsunami in American Samoa.  DOI under Emergency Support Function No. 3 and the Bureau of Reclamation have not yet deployed any resources in support of this operation.  However, Reclamation has a portable water treatment unit available for deployment if the Governor of American Samoa so requests.  Lieutenant Commander Theresa Gallagher, USN, an industrial hygienist in Reclamation’s Security, Safety, and Law Enforcement Office, has received an alert order for a very likely deployment to American Samoa to set up a field medical site.  Commander Gallagher is a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service and serves on the Public Health Service Rapid Deployment Force Team No. 1, which provides medical support under Emergency Support Function No. 8 of the National Response Framework.