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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s command center on Saturday as Hurricane Irene began making its way up the East Coast, and 6,500 American troops were told to be ready in case they are needed for relief work.

The center helps coordinate the government’s response to natural disasters such as this weekend’s hurricane, and the president offered encouragement to emergency management staff from across the federal government.

“Everybody here, you guys are doing a great job,” Obama told dozens of workers who were at their computer stations. The workers wore red or blue vests with their job descriptions on their backs.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 6,500 active duty troops to be prepared for a possible order for them to help with Hurricane Irene relief assistance. Panetta issued a prepare-to-deploy order for the troops from all branches of the military if support relief efforts are required, spokesman George Little said.

The request for the possible help came from states in the path of the storm.

Obama, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and his assistant for homeland security, John Brennan, said he was monitoring the situation closely. He thanked everyone for their efforts.

“”This is still obviously going to be a touch and go situation for a lot of communities, but knowing that they’ve got an outstanding response team like this will make all the difference in the world,” he said. “Especially because you all are not going to get any sleep for the next 72 hours or so.”

Earlier Saturday, Obama got a fresh update on the storm from his emergency management team.

He’s asking to be kept alerted to developments throughout the day and overnight as the storm makes it way up the Eastern Seaboard. He also spoke with federal and state agencies involved in the response by video teleconference.

Obama said that when he discussed the situation Friday with governors and mayors, he asked if they could think of anything else they needed. “There was quiet on the phone and that was a good sign,” the president said.

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