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How the military can help if California's Oroville Dam bursts

The Defense Department stands ready to assist in operations surrounding a failing dam in northern California, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters today.


Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said DoD officials are watching closely as the dam erodes.

Soldiers assigned to the California National Guard's 2632nd Transportation Company prepare to move out to Paradise, Chico and Nevada County in California to bring cots and blankets to temporary shelters set up for residents who evacuated their homes as the Oroville Dam spillway threatened to fail, Feb. 13, 2017. The California Department of Public Health supplied the blankets and cots. (California National Guard photo)

"The dam is failing, and evacuation orders have been given to close to 200,000 people in the area," he said. "While the [water] depths are reported to be decreasing, we do note that rain is expected later this week."

DoD is in touch with the California National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the commander of U.S. Northern Command, Davis said. Northcom provides command and control of Defense Department homeland defense efforts and coordinates defense support of civil authorities.

"We've dispatched liaison officers to the state emergency operations center, and are prepared to deploy any Title 10 capabilities – federal military – quickly if requested," Davis noted, adding that the entire California National Guard, which comprises about 23,000 service members, is on alert status.

FEMA and DoD coordinating officials stand by to put state and federal asset requests into action as they arise, he said.

"If the dam should break, there are FEMA, California National Guard and DoD personnel who will all be prepared to respond," the Pentagon spokesman told reporters. "We are leaning forward and are ready to assist if needed."

A family gets settled into an emergency shelter following the Oroville spillway evacuation notice at Beale Air Force Base, California, Feb. 13, 2017. Beale is providing evacuees with shelter, food, and water. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Tristan D. Viglianco)

Types of help DoD is prepared to provide include aviation, airborne imagery and water rescue — both swift water and still water — as well as mass care and shelter assistance, he added.

DoD officials are trying to anticipate such requests before they come, Davis said, and is keeping a dialogue open to quickly get its forces ready should they be needed.

"We recognize that one of our most solemn duties is to assist the American people in their greatest time of need," the captain said. "While the state, first and foremost, has the responsibility for doing that, there's a federal element, should they need it, which is ready to respond quickly."