EVAC: the Emergency Volunteer Air Corpssm

Emergency Preparedness Article
by Lt. Col. Joseph DePaolo

"Wings for Recovery"

Joseph T. DePaolo
(about Mr. DePaolo)

Foreword:  What is a "State and Regional Disaster Airlift" (SARDA) Mission ?? 

    When people have survived a disaster they look for the Government (any Government) to fly in large transports full of workers and supplies, But there are a few problems with this expectation. First of all these large transports are expected to come from Our Air Force, however, suppose our Air Force is busy, say with - "A War" or Civil Support action or a peacekeeping mission ??? Wouldn't our Air Force be very busy supplying these troops in some foreign country ??? Then it must be remembered that Air Force transports require large airports, not the smaller kind that most communities have. And finally, how much would an Air Force response "Cost" ??? Or do you think they fly for free ??? Think again, my friend. 

Wings for Recovery:

    Most people say "What can little aircraft do ??" I agree that one or two can't do much, but 40 or 50 can do a lot. What exactly is a SARDA Mission ?? These days it appears that agreements among FEMA, The FAA, The US Air Force and The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) have focused on airborne damage assessment and overflights of public officials. I agree that these are important operations, but let me give you just one example of what a SARDA mission should be. A person from a devastated town goes out to his local airport, finds it undamaged. He gets into his small aircraft and flies it to another town 50 miles away. He buys $50 worth of hamburgers, flies them back to his home town and feeds all of his neighbors. He has just completed a SARDA Mission !!!!!

    Of the various types of disasters that could befall the United States, both natural or man- made, it appears that missile attack would be one of the worst because it would cause the destruction of large vast areas of the country. Large cities could be decimated in the blink of an eye. These days it also appears that a terrorist attack on one of our large cities using a stolen atomic warhead is a high possibility. Because such a missile or terrorist attack will cause such destruction over large areas, relief and assistance is going to have to come from great distances. Aircraft can provide assistance quicker over longer distances than surface based transportation. What could take surface traffic days or weeks to bring into a disaster area aircraft can do in hours.

Let us examine for a minute some of the things that light aircraft can accomplish:

  • Airborne Radiological Monitoring: Is the placing of qualified specialists and radiological monitoring equipment aboard aircraft to overfly areas that have become radio active, such as missile attack target areas or nuclear power plant accidents. Before any support can be given to these areas, knowledge of radiation levels will have to be obtained and understood. Airborne monitoring can provide greater safety for the monitors and a faster method of obtaining needed readings. Decontamination must be provided for the exposed aircraft and crews. The Civil Air Patrol did a great job at Three Mile Island in Penn. some time ago and proved this point.
  • Courier and light transport flights: In any disaster it is very important that lines of communications be re-established quickly and remain intact. Once those lines are cut, you are isolated and there is no worse feeling than not knowing if someone somewhere knows what's happening. If telephone lines are down, no radios are available, the sight of a lone helicopter overhead can be a welcome sight. First aircraft into a disaster area can, at least, bring reassurance that someone knows. Courier and light transport flights can bring in communications equipment and key officials quickly, thus providing safe access to the disaster area. Although it may appear that large numbers of personnel and supplies cannot be airlifted, with enough aircraft they can be.
  • Medical Support: Is of the greatest value because of the speed with which assistance to medical casualties can be brought into a disaster area. Doctors, Nurses, Blood, medical supplies and medical equipment can be airlifted. A plan has been developed to airlift a complete emergency medical facility into a disaster area, to triage, stabilize and evacuate casualties to support bases then to surrounding hospitals. Basic concepts of aeromedical evacuation can be applied here. Aircraft bringing in medical supplies and personnel can be used for evacuation. In cases of medical emergencies, as has been shown, speed and time are if the essence.
  • Cargo and Logistics airlift support: It is agreed that a single light aircraft can move but little supplies or equipment, however, many light aircraft can move tons. Thirty helicopters with a sling load capacity of 2,000 lbs. can move 60,000 lbs many times faster than surface traffic. We also solve the problem of moving bulky items into a disaster area. A light aircraft could not possibly move a 30kw generator, but a single helicopter that can sling load 6,000 lbs can move it quite easily. They do it every day in the offshore oil fields of Louisiana and moving large air conditioner units in every large city in America.
  • Operation of "Air Heads" for receipt and shipment of disaster supplies, equipment and personnel: An "Air Head" is actually a support base from which aircraft shuttle into and out of a disaster area. It is a collection point for every thing going in and a recovery base for everything coming out. It is the aircraft home base, providing fuel, food, and rest for the flight crews and aircraft. It is the point where aircraft are matched with loads and weights computed. It is also the point where airlifted casualties are picked up by ambulances for transfer to supporting hospitals. The line of communications between a disaster area and its supporting "Air Head" is the primary line that must be established and maintained. For each disaster there should be at least one "Air Head" established at a support base at a safe distance, but not too far. It is recommended that not more than two "Air Heads" be established, otherwise the flight operations might become too involved for safety and therefore become hazardous to flight crews.
  • Aerial Photographic and Reconnaissance Flights: A picture is worth a thousand words (or so the saying goes) and an aerial photo showing actual conditions is no exception. Aerial photography, done properly and brought back to mission coordinators can provide a large amount of information. In some instances a "before" and "after" photo can reveal the extend of damage or provide a warning of potential danger. Recently, CAP aircraft, with real time Television cameras aboard were used to give coordinators an actual television view of disaster areas. In many cases an aircraft sent into a disaster area can provide information more quickly than surface traffic, which could have trouble with blocked or destroyed roads and highways.
  • Aerial Control, Direction and Surveillance of Surface Traffic: As with many disasters (such as Hurricanes) if there is time for evacuation, most Americans will leave if told to do so by proper authorities. They will seek shelter or refuge elsewhere. Any evacuation will put a large strain on our highway system. Use of aircraft to monitor these highways frees police officers for other duties. An aircraft can cover large sections of highways or streets quickly and not be hampered by traffic jams or tie-ups. If adjustments are needed this can be reported to a Command Post rapidly. In this instance one police officer in the air could be worth many on the ground. The police use of aircraft now has a name, it is called "Air-Borne Law Enforcement" (ABLE).
  • Damage Estimation and Evaluation: It seems in recent years many officials have realized that an aerial view is the best, safest and quickest way to observe damage first hand, perhaps getting a good insight as to the proper way to respond. This has been especially true with floods and earthquakes. Both of these hazards can cover large areas. To try to take a vehicle or boat to view the extent of a flood would take far too long. Through the use of helicopters we have seen the emergence of a new term "electronic news gathering" (ENG), which has taken the evening news to new heights of realism in our living rooms.

But this just illustrates the amount of information that can be gathered by a camera man in a helicopter hovering over a disaster area. If the camera could transmit its picture back to the command post, an emergency manager could see what is occurring and yet have direct access to the coordinating staff. This has been done already by units of the Louisiana Wing of Civil Air Patrol.

  • Airborne Communications and Relay of Ground Communications: After many drills and many disasters, one of the factors always criticized is faulty communications. Aircraft have their own radio frequency bands and because of this airborne communications should not interfere with ground emergency frequencies. Aircraft can talk air-to-air and air-to-ground and because of their altitude can usually communicate farther than ground vehicles. Another advantage is that because of their altitude aircraft could act as big "Repeaters" in the sky, relaying messages great distances. But a very important point should be made here and that is the fact that aircraft should have a radio capable of communicating with emergency personnel on the ground.

Recently, here in Louisiana, we had a multiple vehicle accident on an interstate highway over a large bayou area in the Southern part of our state, between two of our major cities. Problems began when, because of many serious injuries, the State Police called for rescue helicopters, BUT they found that they could not communicate directly with the police. Too much time was lost because the State police had to communicate through the local telephone to dispatchers, who in turn had to talk to the helicopter dispatchers for relay to the aircraft. Since then, after many meetings, common radios have been found.

  • Airborne Public Address Systems: With a loud speaker system attached to the underside of an aircraft, instructions and information could be passed to the public "En Masse". Vehicles and large groups of evacuees could be given directions to travel. Speakers on helicopters have been used to warn residents of approaching hazards and given directions from authorities. Once again an aircrafts altitude enables the sound to travel over a large distance.
  • Patrol and Surveillance of Restricted Areas: One aircraft or helicopter can patrol a restricted area, keeping large areas in view, freeing ground patrol units for other duties. After a missile attack, for example, large areas will be contaminated. It will be necessary to restrict travel in these areas. Patrolling them will be a problem due to ground damage. This is a good job for aircraft, which would be able to cover the area much faster than a vehicle.
  • Search and Rescue: More and more these days, aircraft and helicopters are being used for search and rescue. Not just for downed aircraft (which the Civil Air Patrol has been doing for years) but for missing persons and anything that can get lost. Because of their altitude and unobstructed view (in good visibility), aircraft are well suited for search and rescue.
  • Mission Considerations: Helicopters can land and takeoff from any large open areas, parks, large street and highways, tops of buildings, besides regular heliports. It should not be forgotten that light aircraft can also use alternative landing sites. Sections of highways can be used in an emergency to land supporting aircraft. State Police normally block off sections of highways so helicopters can land at accidents sites. Caution must be exercised to be sure the landing area is clear of debris and any obstruction. This is also true of approach and departure paths. In an emergency, if an airport is not close to the disaster area, alternate landing sites should be considered. Every emergency manager should be aware of the General Aviation capabilities and resources within their areas of responsibility and know where and how to use them.
  • Mission Priorities: What is the most important SARDA mission ?? Even with all the possible mission categories that I have just mentioned, I consider the most important missions are the ones that bring into a disaster area (1) food, (2) workers and (3) survival equipment. They should not go back to the support base empty, evacuate the injured as necessary. All other missions are secondary.
  • Mission Training: Let me mention just one aspect of possible mission training. Each year the Civil Air Patrol is required to conduct a "Disaster Relief" exercise. I suggest selecting a small town airport somewhere in the state and (with permission) use it as a practice mission base for a day. Have responding CAP units bring in everything they would need, including communications equipment, fuel, food, water and temporary housing (tents). Fly everything in, set it up, operate it, tear it down and fly it out. What a great practice mission, I wonder if any Wing would like to try it ???

For EVAC, August 2001   Copyright 2001 Joseph T. DePaolo

About Joseph T. DePaolo:

I am at present a Police Communications Officer for the City of DeRidder, Louisiana. This duty is not far from what I did previously in FAA, Radio, Telephone and Computer communications. I retired from the FAA in August, 1997, after 40 years service, 17 of which were in Control Towers, including 4 years of active service in the U.S. Air Force.

I also spent 45 years as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, joining as a cadet in 1951 and retiring in 1996 as a Lt. Colonel. For the last 15 years I specialized in Disaster Planning, assisting the FAA in writing the guidance for AC OO-7D, SARDA planning. I held Command several times and also held many Wing staff positions.

I was born in Queens, New York City, January, 1936. I graduated from Jamaica High School and attended the Academy of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport. I joined the Air Force in 1956. I am married to the former Emma James of Hawley, Pennsylvania. We are presently residing in DeRidder, Louisiana, since my last duty station was the DeRidder FAA Automated Flight Service Station. 

    - JTD

Another Article Coming Soon:  "The Alpha Plan"

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