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CAO Offers Aid to Gulf Coast Members

As the Republican National Convention got under way in earnest Tuesday, officials back on Capitol Hill set up a Hurricane Command Center for those House Members whose districts need help as they recover from Hurricane Gustav.

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard opened the center Tuesday morning to help Members get their district offices back in order after the hurricane hit the Louisiana coast Monday.

“So far today it’s really been more collecting damage-assessment information,” said Rob Noll, the CAO’s director of business continuity and disaster recovery. “We’re not sure at this point what offices are flooded and which offices are not.”

If needed, the center can help provide temporary housing, satellite phones, counselors and a little extra cash, he said. The CAO also has mobile command centers — trucks decked out with laptops and phones that are ready to be deployed.

The center is nothing new. When Hurricane Katrina hit three years ago, Congress gave the center an emergency supplemental of $3 million.

Gustav, of course, caused much less damage than Katrina, and Noll expects to only be open a couple weeks. But CAO employees are already calling district offices in Louisiana and Mississippi to account for all staffers, and a dozen employees are on hand to figure out logistics and to send aid.

Democratic Rep. Don Cazayoux’s Baton Rouge, La., office is structurally sound, spokesman Lewis Lowe said, and staffers have been in constant contact with the command center in efforts to regain power.

“There’s no power, no estimation of when we can get the phones back up,” he said from his cell phone Tuesday afternoon. “I think it’s good to get all the help we can get. This is the worst hurricane Baton Rouge has ever seen.”

So far, Noll said, the center isn’t costing much and it’s unclear what help, if any, will be needed.

“We’re trying to narrow down our list,” Noll said. “We have our list right down to certain Members in Louisiana, a couple offices in Texas. For the most part we think most of the offices fared extremely well.”

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