WASHINGTON (AP) _ A virtual federal army of 3,000 _ gathered from as far away as Seattle _ stands ready to help wherever Hurricane Bertha strikes the East Coast.

``The emergency response business is not unlike the fire fighting business,'' said Phil Cogan, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating the effort. ``One thing everyone agrees on is that nobody complains if the truck shows up and the building is not on fire.''

The teams are equipped with everything from tarpaulins to replace missing roofs to power generators that can get hospitals and sewage facilities up and running again. Six units are a civilian counterpart to the kind of mobile hospitals made famous in the television series ``MASH.''

Preparing for hurricane assistance can be tricky; the state of Florida, Cogan said, had asked FEMA to provide help in assessing damage there, then withdrew the request after Bertha passed by offshore.

FEMA alone has 800-900 people in place, on alert, or working in Washington headquarters. A dozen other federal agencies with responsibilities for emergency response have 2,000 people in the field or at a support office, preparing to deploy people or equipment.

Their job is to supply food, energy, transportation, medical care, urban search and rescue expertise, public works and engineering help.

Separately, the American Red Cross _ responsible for mass care, sheltering and feeding storm victims _ had teams standing by along the East Coast.

An advance emergency response team of 21 people was scheduled to arrive in Raleigh, N.C. from FEMA's Denton, Texas, regional office to be backup to the Southeast region which had been fully committed to the Olympics in Atlanta.

The Texas convoy is bringing communications and power equipment.

One team in Seattle was put on alert to head for Georgia if necessary.

Supplies have been readied and put out of harm's way in Georgia, waiting for potential movement. The General Services Administration, one of the dozen agencies involved, determined where additional bottled water was needed. Cogan said plenty of meals were on hand.

``This is a different FEMA from a few years ago,'' Cogan said. The agency has, in the past, had a reputation for slow and inadequate response to disasters.