Friday, September 09, 2005

Rapid Response to Katrina; USAF

Again, Michael Brown's FEMA managed to have the Air Force on the ground in New Orleans with crucial communications gear to direct rescue and repair activities:

Airmen from the 122nd Air Support Operations coordinate disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Controllers from the squadron...are fulfilling their state disaster relief mission deployed to five locations in New Orleans, including the Superdome.

Serving as the eyes and ears on the ground, the Airmen pass along real-time information to the agencies providing help.

One of the unit’s valuable assets during natural disasters is their satellite radios and their ability to use them to set up a communications network for the state.

“We basically set up a command and control center at each location,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tony Diaz Del Valle, 122nd ASOS superintendent. “At the food and water distribution sites, we have one of our (Airmen) with a radio to communicate what is happening.”

Each one of the controllers is deployed with a Humvee that has a satellite radio, including UHF and VHF radios, Chief Diaz Del Valle said.

With nearly 40 of the unit’s Airmen deployed to the disaster zone, their disaster relief duties are not new. Many of the Airmen in New Orleans helped with hurricane relief in Florida last year.

“Our main mission is to provide information back to the real survival assets like boats, planes and helicopters,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Bennett, squadron detachment commander. “One of our (Airmen) was near the (New Orleans) levee break to help the helicopters coordinate their drops to stop the break.” Another controller found 200 people stranded in a school and contacted a helicopter to help rescue them, Colonel Bennett said.

“Due to our unique capabilities on the battlefield, that lends it to be a perfect match to a natural disaster,” Colonel Bennett said. “We can go as far forward as anyone can with our unique survival skills and our high-tech communications (equipment).”The squadron’s skills are being used in concert with a very large coordinated effort with numerous state and federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Louisiana Army National Guard and active-duty Soldiers from Fort Polk near Alexandria, La.

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