Washington (CNN) – The coordinator for U.S. assistance to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake said Wednesday the entire government is marshalling a massive response, with the immediate goal of saving as many lives as possible within the next 72 hours.
"We are working aggressively and in a highly coordinated way, across the federal government, to bring all of the assets and capacities we have to bear to quickly and effectively provide as much assistance as possible," said Rajiv Shah, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development.
President Barack Obama tapped Shah, who was sworn in just last week, with leading "a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives" in Haiti after that country's powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
"We are in the process of trying to generate as many potential options and put as many assets as we have into where they could potentially be used quickly and efficiently to achieve that goal," Shah said.
To that end, Shah said USAID would have a 15-member disaster response team (DART) on the ground in Haiti Thursday "doing surveillance, collecting data, identifying priority sites" and guiding the search and rescue effort. Two 72-member search and rescue teams were en route to Haiti with equipment and technology to begin operations.
A third search and rescue team was to be leaving from Miami and agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security are trying to identify additional units, he said.
Shah said the Haitian government has identified search and rescue, medical services and communications as immediate priorities, but that USAID was also examining examining "critical needs" for Haiti in areas like health and food, water, transportation, and infrastructure.
"Our team, which includes members from every agency in the federal government that has the capacity to help, is working to develop plans and put resources in place so that we can effectively respond to some of the requests that have come from the Haitian leadership and from our teams on the ground," Shah said.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said the airport is "functional," but capacity is limited with only one airfield, one runway and limited ramp space.
The United States is also trying to help the UN, which maintains a peacekeeping force and large development staff in Haiti. As many as 100 UN employees are missing. Many are believed to be in the rubble of UN headquarters, which collapsed during the earthquake.
Although the situation on the ground remains calm, Fraiser said United States is exploring how it can help the UN maintain law and order in the country, including the possibility of deploying a large-deck amphibious ship with Marines onboard.
"That is a significant concern that we have with security, so we're working with MINUSTA and then doing the assessment to understand what kind of follow-on capability we're going to need," he said about the United Nations force, noting that the Deputy Commander of the Southern Command is currently on the ground in Haiti.
Several US ships from the Coast Guard and Pentagon are en route to Haiti, and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is headed to Haiti from Virgina and should arrive in the vicinity Thursday with a number of helicopters. Fraiser said the US has put "put various forces around the armed forces on alert, so that as we get the assessments in we are postured to move those forces in an expeditious manner."
Because the US embassy is one of the few structures that remains intact, State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills told reporters, it has become a point of support, where Americans and Haitians who are able to reach it can receive medical assistance. Additionally, the United States has been able to maintain good communications, and is leading coordination efforts among other countries and international NGOs willing to provide assistance.
Mills said the United States is trying to get in touch with the roughly 45,000 U.S. citizens in Haiti to see what help they need.
There have been no confirmed deaths of Americans, but about a dozen injuries have been reported. Eight of the injured are US personnel, four of them seriously wounded and medevaced out by the US Coast Guard.
The US has also ordered the departure of approximately 80 embassy spouses, children, and non-essential personnel. Mills said the evacuations will begin Wednesday to ensure that all resources are "properly concentrated on those who are in need."