Hurricane Irma scares U.S. Southern Command, operations shift to Arizona

The U.S. Southern Command shifted operations to a subsidiary in Arizona on Saturday, shutting down the Pentagon’s suburban Miami outpost overseeing military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean more than 12 hours before Hurricane Irma’s anticipated landfall in the southernmost tip of Florida.

Southcom spokeswoman Army Col. Lisa Garcia said Southcom’s Doral, Florida, headquarters closed at 3 p.m. on Saturday and that a small team was “assuming the Southcom watch responsibilities” at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

The air base is headquarters of the 12th Air Force, an air combat command that “conducts security cooperation and provides air, space and cyberspace capabilities throughout the 31 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean” for Southcom.

At Davis-Monthan, spokesman Air Force Maj. Joost Verduyn said the move was in consideration of “predictions about the scope and severity of damage the Miami area may sustain as a result of Hurricane Irma.” He said Southcom sent a headquarters team to Tucson ahead of storm “to ensure the safety of personnel while enabling Southcom to continue its mission uninterrupted.”

In the aftermath of a hurricane, for example, Southcom serves as a command and control center for military units working with federal agencies on disaster and relief efforts south of the border. One such operation was already underway: Southcom sent six U.S. cargo planes to the storm ravaged island of St. Martin to evacuate more 800 U.S. citizens at the request of the Department of State, Verduyn said.

The flights “had to be suspended due to Hurricane Jose,” he added, advising people to shelter in place until that stormed passed. “The Department of Defense and the Department of State intend to resume operations to St. Martin as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Miami Herald headquarters, located next door to the Pentagon outpost, was in full operation on Saturday.