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    East Coast members providing assistance after Irene

    August 29, 2011


    A North Carolina Wing aircrew’s photo of some of the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene.

    Virginia Wing aircrews – Brig. Gen. Joe Vazquez, national vice commander, pilot; Capt. Daniel Ciesla, the wing’s director of cadet programs, observer; Lt. Col. Roy Davis, observer; and Lt. Col. B. Keith West of the Legislative Squadron, mission pilot – prepare for the first two sorties after the hurricane.

    Aerial views of debris left against a bridge in Williamsport, Md., and of flooding in Cumberland, Md.

    Flooding in Elkton, Md. 

    Civil Air Patrol members along the Eastern Seaboard, from North Carolina to Maine, are stepping up to provide assistance in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

    Maryland Wing

    The Maryland Wing mobilized 55 members to support damage assessments in the wake of Hurricane Irene, with two planes and 14 ground teams working to survey 65 areas throughout eastern Maryland.

    The damage assessments, which began at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, are being conducted at the request of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. The wing expected to complete all of the surveys Sunday and will have resources available today for any additional missions. 

    Using Civil Air Patrol’s Airborne Digital Imaging System, pilots and aircrews are taking high-resolution pictures of flooding and property damage that the state agency will use to help determine critical infrastructure needs. 

    Maj. Christopher Howell, CAP incident commander on duty during the assessments, said damage was lighter than expected in some areas.  “The Maryland Wing is proud to partner with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and help support the citizens of Maryland.”

    The wing began preparations Thursday for the hurricane by moving aircraft out of the path of the storm and alerting members to prepare for ground team, aircrew and mission base tasking.  CAP liaison officers have been integrated into MEMA’s Maryland Joint Operations Center since Saturday. 

    The wing’s incident command post at Martin State Airport began operations Sunday, conducting damage assessment operations once the hurricane had passed.

    “Our whole process is based on pre-planning,” said Col. Gerard Weiss, the command post’s planning section chief.  “We have standard operational plans ready to go for scenarios such as search and rescue, disaster relief and safeguarding the wing’s aircraft during a hurricane. 

    “As events unfold, these plans are activated and the wing springs into action.

    Members had the opportunity in early June to practice responding to a very similar scenario during the biennial evaluation of the wing’s capability to safely and effectively execute the Air Force’s noncombat search and rescue mission.  The scenario for this year’s evaluation, for which the wing received the top rating of “highly successful,” was a hurricane that caused extensive damage when it made landfall in Maryland. 

    As part of the exercise, the wing responded to tasking from MEMA by conducting air and ground missions to assess theoretical damage. 

    “We practiced activating our operational plans, and we used the same procedures,” said Weiss, who also served as an incident commander during the exercise.

    -- Capts. Julie S. Holley, mission information officer, and Jacob Gerstein, public information officer, Maryland Wing

    Virginia Wing

    At the Virginia Wing’s mission base in Richmond, CAP’s recently elected national vice commander, Brig. Gen. Joe Vazquez, participated in one of the first mission flights after the hurricane moved on.

    “We were lucky,” Vazquez said after flying on the first sortie to survey Virginia Beach and downtown Norfolk. “There was very little external damage visible, and no significant beach erosion noted.” 

    Vazquez had last flown a post-hurricane mission in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “I vividly remember hundreds of boats stripped out of marinas and piled up like cordwood against the coast after Hugo,” he said. “Nothing like that was observed this time, and we were very grateful that Virginia’s Tidewater escaped such devastation.”

    The wing flew six sorties the day after Irene passed, providing photos of damage to an isolated coastal area caused by a tornado spawned by the storm. 

    -- Lt. Col. Leslie Vazquez, national standardization and evaluation Adviser

    North Carolina Wing

    The incident command post continues to operate out of North Carolina Wing Headquarters in Burlington, with Maj. Andy Wiggs serving as incident commander for both air and ground operations.

    Capt. Chris Bailey, air operations branch director, said nine flights were planned for today, including four high bird communications sorties totaling 12 hours of flying in support of the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo reconnaissance flights along the coast were planned as well.

    In addition to normal air operations, a full-motion video-equipped airplane from the Louisiana Wing stands ready to fly reconnaissance missions to the coast. That aircraft’s crew consists of Lt. Col. Steve Wood, pilot, the Louisiana  Wing's director of operations; Maj. T. Keith Riddle, mission coordinator and Mississippi Wing adviser to the commander; and 1st Lt. Mary Blackman, mission sensor operator and administrative officer for the Louisiana Wing’s Central Louisiana Squadron.

    In Beaufort County, at least 53 members from 12 North Carolina Wing units assisted with distribution of such commodities as food, water, ice and tarpaulins to the general public. Their role included coordinating the overall operation from the county Emergency Operations Center.

    Initially, four Point of Distribution sites were established in local fire departments, as was a central county receiving and distribution point. Toward the end of the eight-day operation, the central county location was closed and two Points of Distribution remained open.

    That deployment of so many wing personnel in support of a disaster operation was the largest and longest in at least a decade.  With Lt. Col. John Kay, wing vice commander, functioning as agency liaison and Point of Distribution coordinator at the Beaufort County Emergency Operations Center, incident commander Wiggs was able to maintain contact and work to keep the distribution operations manned and functioning over the eight-day period.

    Constant contact and coordination was needed with the state Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, the main commodities distribution warehouse in Tarboro and the count receiving and distribution point each day to ensure successful delivery of commodities to the Points of Distribution.

    Farther south, North Carolina Wing members began signing into the hurricane mission base at wing headquarters Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport before 7 a.m. Sunday, prepared to offer both federal and state assistance in the wake of the storm, which had made landfall on the Outer Banks on Saturday a day earlier as a Category 2 hurricane.

    Maj. John May, in charge of air operations, anticipated using six wing airplanes throughout the day for various missions.

    “Two aircraft at a time will be in the air for the next 48 hours serving as aerial radio repeaters, or high birds, along the coastal areas. These high birds will relay radio traffic from our other aircraft assigned to damage assessment missions,” May said.

    Lt. Col. David Crawford, incident commander, said two planes were launched from Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 8 a.m., each transporting a representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and North Carolina Emergency Management.

    “The plan is to give these disaster assessment experts a firsthand look at our coastal regions,” Crawford said.

    Since Thursday, CAP members have been working at the state logistics warehouses at Tarboro and Badin, readying disaster relief supplies for shipment to affected coastal areas.

    “We have several North Carolina Wing members also serving at the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, including CAP senior members and cadets, who are manning administrative desks and serving as message runners,” Crawford said.

    “The mission base is fully staffed with seniors and cadets. Our communications center is operating on our Air Force-assigned VHF and HF frequencies, as well as monitoring three of the state-owned VIPER radios, which afford us instant communications to state and CAP personnel along the entire coastal area.”

    Crawford said that overall, 141 members from the North Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi wings responded before and after the storm hit North Carolina. Across three missions, eight aircraft made 32 flights totaling more than 66.8 hour of evacuation route coverage, communication relay, reconnaissance and relocation.

    -- Lt. Col. Donald Beckett, disaster relief officer; Maj. Conrad F. D’Cruz, assistant public affairs officer; and Capt. Don Penven, public affairs officer, North Carolina Wing

    New York Wing

    In New York, six members of the wing’s South Eastern Group volunteered to assist at two local city shelters before the storm’s arrival at the request of Yonkers’ Office of Emergency Management.

    The CAP officer in charge, Capt. Jose Ruiz, was assisted by 1st Lt. Joe Wolf; 2nd Lts. Margaret Tummolo, Johnny Gonzalez and Nelson Dossantos; and Senior Member Kleiver Gomez. All are members of the Amelia Earhart Cadet Squadron, except for Tummolo, from the Anthony Wilsea Cadet Squadron. 

    The cadets worked at two of the city’s shelters at a local high school and the Police Athletic League Headquarters by bringing in food and setting up sleeping cots for more than 40 people who had evacuated their homes. 

    “The CAP members did an outstanding job and our assistance was greatly appreciated,” Ruiz said.  “We were glad to be able to render the people of our community assistance, and more folks now know about the services CAP is capable of providing.” 

    -- Capt. James A. Ridley Sr., public information officer, New York Wing


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