USTRANSCOM ready for the worst hurricanes can muster
"Federal officials began to track Hurricane Dean as it formed in the Atlantic Ocean and started moving towards Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick J. Owens, deputy, Global Division, Operations and Plans Directorate. "FEMA, as well as United States Northern Command, which we support, began to convene video teleconferences to discuss and plan a potential response.
"In support of USNORTHCOM, we forward-deployed aeromedical capability (personnel and equipment) to Texas," Owens added. "We also forward-deployed a Joint Assessment Team from McGuire AFB, N.J., to Puerto Rico in anticipation of Hurricane Dean."
According to Owens, USTRANSCOM transported specially-equipped Federal Emergency Management Agency and USNORTHCOM emergency response and command and control vehicles to Puerto Rico on Aug. 16. The command started 24-hour hurricane response operations in the USTRANSCOM Deployment and Distributions Operations Center on Aug. 18.
Deployed USTRANSCOM and component personnel included the JAT, the lead element of USTRANSCOM's Joint Task Force-Port Opening capability.
"We also started moving a Deployment and Distribution Operations Center-Forward to FEMA Headquarters and the National Guard Bureau," Owens said. The DDOC-F was to be staffed with two Air Mobility Command field grade officers and two Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Center field grade officers under the direction of a USTRANSCOM colonel, Additionally, USTRANSCOM began the deployment of eight personnel to USNORTHCOM's DDOC. These moves were discontinued as it became apparent that the storm was turning away from the United States.
Also deployed in advance of the hurricane were one Joint Patient Movement Team to Austin, Texas, one active duty Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility to Brownsville, Texas, as well as seven Critical Care Aeromedical Transport Teams and six aeromedical evacuation teams to San Antonio.
"In addition to moving the JAT to Puerto Rico, we used our aircraft to deploy a defense coordinating officer and his team with some of their emergency vehicles," Owens said. "We also moved a FEMA mobile emergency response unit from the Boston area to Puerto Rico."
Fortunately, the hurricane took a more southerly route and did not affect Puerto Rico or Texas. According to Owens, if it had converged on Texas, state officials may have asked for federal assistance to handle the evacuation of patients from the Brownsville area through a national medical response system.
"We would have then taken the patients from three airfields in and around the Brownsville area and relocated patients and personnel to locations away from the storm," said Owens. "There were C-130s and crews on alert at Little Rock AFB (in Arkansas) and Dyess (AFB, Texas) to start the aeromedical evacuation."
In preparation for the hurricane season, USTRANSCOM's Global Division, under the direction of Marine Corps Col. Adrian Burke, has been involved in a great deal of planning with USTRANSCOM, AMC and SDDC personnel.
"USTRANSCOM and component personnel have spent quite a bit of time in planning conferences in Texas during the summer," Owens said, "as well as the Louisiana Joint Field Office of FEMA in Baton Rouge, La., to prepare in conjunction with and cooperation with U.S. Northern Command and FEMA planners."
Army Lt. Col. Kenneth Walkington, chief of the Global Division's NORTHCOM Branch, organized and hosted a FEMA, USNORTHCOM and USTRANSCOM joint planning conference earlier this summer.
"We have worked very closely with planners from FEMA, USNORTHCOM, AMC and TACC (Tanker Airlift Control Center)," Owens continued. "We've had TACC and USTRANSCOM planners down in New Orleans looking at the airport to see how we would best go about making air evacuation work, not just aeromedical evacuation but potential evacuation of general population or tourists from New Orleans by contracted commercial air carriers."
According to Owens, throughout the hurricane season, if state and federal officials feel threatened by a hurricane, FEMA can request DOD assistance. If tasked, USTRANSCOM, as a supporting combatant command to USNORTHCOM, would respond to carry out any tasks requiring USTRANSCOM capabilities, expertise or resources.