ATF leading federal emergency efforts in areas impacted by Irma

A truck overturned in flood waters as Hurricane Irma passed through Miami Sunday. (Photo: Thomson Reuters)

A truck overturned in flood waters as Hurricane Irma passed through Miami Sunday. (Photo: Thomson Reuters)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said this week its coordinating a multi-agency emergency response to areas impacted by Hurricane Irma.

ATF spokesman Joshua Jackson told Tuesday the agency leads ESF-13, an emergency response plan of action implemented by the Department of Justice, and has deployed approximately 500 agents to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Florida, with another 500 on stand-by as needed.

“The personnel are a makeup of several different federal agencies (ATF, FBI, DEA, USMS, and others) that are agents, subject matter experts, and intelligence specialists,” he said. “ATF’s primary mission in the affected areas is public safety, providing security for FEMA shelters, and supporting urban search and rescues units. ATF and its partners will remain in the affected areas for the interim until things have stabilized.”

Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, whipped through the Caribbean last week before making two landfalls in the United States over the weekend — once in the lower Florida Keys and again on Marco Island, 18 miles south of Naples. The massive storm packed 130 mile per hour winds, 10 foot storm surges and a rotation of winds more than 400 miles wide. More than 3 million residents lost power across the state, including up to 90 percent of Miami. At least 12 deaths have been blamed on the storm.

It’s the second major hurricane to batter the southern U.S. in less than a month. Hurricane Harvey stalled over the Texas Gulf coast for five days in August, drenching Houston and surrounding areas in more than four feet of water. The ATF deployed SRT agents to the city to bolster security at federally licensed gun dealers vulnerable to looting.

Nicole Strong, an ATF spokeswoman, told last week six Houston-area dealers were burglarized during the storm, but only four lost inventory for a total of 109 firearms taken — a success compared to the 1,102 guns stolen from more than 30 dealers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

“ATF in Houston worked very hard on the front end of Harvey to minimize FFL losses,” she said.  “We did so by sending out media advisories reminding FFL’s to use best practices and to secure their inventory. We also sent out an ‘FFL alert’ with the same message both prior to and during the storm. ATF provided a list of all FFL’s to Houston Police Department and they proactively monitored as best they could, all the FFL’s during the storm. ATF also personally contacted all FFL’s as soon as the storm passed to ensure there were no additional losses.”

As Irma barreled toward Florida last week, the agency wasted no time warning dealers and owners alike to move their inventory to safer, drier ground.

“In the storms, we’ll go back to (Hurricane) Harvey, where again, people are taking advantage of the fact that there’s no on in the home,” ATF Special Agent Daryl McCrary told the ABC affiliate in Orlando last week. “They’re going out, sometimes in the midst of the storm, or very soon after the storm, and they’re looting.”

Jackson said Tuesday its too early to announce whether any dealers lost guns during Irma.

“At this time, ATF is gathering all the facts to ascertain how many, if any, FFL’s were negatively impacted by Hurricane Irma,” he said. “There is a possibility that some FFL’s were damaged and/or burglarized. After assessing everything, ATF will have some information that is appropriate to share with the media in regards to any losses incurred by FFL’s related to Hurricane Irma.”

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