Alaska editorial: Finally, FEMA has an office in Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

At last, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has an area office in Alaska. The new FEMA office, in the Anchorage Federal Building Annex, was opened as a result of amendments to the federal Homeland Security Appropriations Act last year.

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It's fitting that Alaska has an office that is meant to respond to disasters; like everyplace else, we have enough of them.

Looking at a list of the largest earthquakes in the United States, supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey, illustrates the point. Of course, the largest U.S. earthquake remains the magnitude-9.2 temblor that shook Prince William Sound on Good Friday 1964, destroying much of the Anchorage area. But seven others of the top-10 ever to hit the United States all occurred in Alaska.

Tsunamis, wildfires and all of the disasters than can strike anywhere do strike Alaska.

"Alaskans face disasters on a daily basis, from storms with hurricane-force winds to devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions," Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said in praising the opening of the office he has pushed for. "FEMA's permanent presence in Alaska will immediately improve our ability to respond to disasters and coordinate federal aid for recovery efforts."

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison said the regional offices help the agency "build strong relationships and open lines of communication before a disaster strikes."

The director of Alaska's FEMA office is no stranger, especially to Anchorage weather watchers. Capt. Robert Forgit, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and a meteorologist on Anchorage television station KTUU, was on the staff of the federal on-scene coordinator after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, and was the chief of port security in Western Alaska after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

FEMA's Alaska Area Office also will serve as a field office for disaster preparedness and planning, as well as a staging and work area for Preliminary Damage Assessment teams. The FEMA region that includes Alaska also includes Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

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