Hurricane Ike Prompts FEMA to Task the National Park Service with a Search and Rescue Mission in Houston

Hurricane Ike, Funktop view, about 8:30 a.m. eastern. Funktop enhanced infrared imagery is especially useful for precipitation analysis and forecasting. NOAA photo.

With the huge and powerful Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, emergency preparations are in full swing. The Texas-sized storm is deemed very dangerous (a category 2 or 3), and may produce unusually high storm surges. Unfortunately, one of America’s most heavily populated urban areas is in the bullseye.

Low lying areas of Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city (over 2.2 million residents), are expected to experience serious flooding, as is the nearby coastal barrier city of Galveston. Sequenced evacuation of the threatened areas has been ongoing for several days, but many thousands of people remain at risk.

Because the threat to human life is so high in the Houston area, large areas of which lie scarcely above sea level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has rushed to put search and rescue resources in place. Forecasters have warned there’s a credible risk of a storm surge big enough to overwhelm critical flood control structures, and this has added to the sense of urgency.

As part of its preparations, FEMA asked the National Park Service to contribute boat crews to the urban search and rescue task force being put together for Houston. The Park Service responded by staging a large contingent consisting of 21 two-person boat crews. This is the fourth time this year that FEMA has tasked the Park Service with a search and rescue mission.

Earlier, as Hurricane Ike drew a bead on the Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore requested the deployment of a Central Incident Management Team. Padre Island is in the path of the storm, and while it won't be hit as hard as Houston-Galveston, it can expect significant beach erosion, flooding, and related impacts.

Traveler is assuming, but has not confirmed, that evacuation and closure of Padre Island National Seashore has minimized the need for search and rescue resources there, freeing them for deployment to the task force in Houston.

The Park Service has updated a law enforcement roster in case additional personnel are needed in the hurricane-impacted area for safety and security missions.