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Summit gives disaster response leaders 'Eagle Vision'

by Capt. Laura Ropelis
1st Air Force (AFNORTH) Public Affairs

7/30/2008 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Key disaster response leaders united for a three day summit here July 22 to learn about a process that brings real-time life-saving images to civilian and military first responders.

Maj. Gen. Henry C. 'Hank' Morrow, commander of 1st Air Force and Air Force Northern Command, and Brig. Gen. Andre Viens, Continental U.S. Northern Region deputy commander, brought active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, government and civilian leaders from Washington D.C. and around the country together here to see the "Eagle Vision IV" system and explore more effective networking and support capabilities for leaders in their common mission of disaster response.

"The beauty of Eagle Vision is that it's a completely unclassified system allowing us to provide imagery to those civilian leaders who need it quickly," said Mr. Jerry Brooks, director of the Eagle Vision program.

Disaster response people have other platforms to gather information on catastrophe areas, such as the flooded Midwest states, major hurricane impact sites or western wildfire locations, according to Mr. Brooks.

"But satellite imagery provides a view of broad areas of an event, really important when you are talking about thousands of acres of damage," he said.

Although the Eagle Vision team was deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base to educate leaders on the program, they went into operational mode to provide Eagle Vision images of Hurricane Dolly, which recently hit the Texas coast.

Broad area imagery was provided daily to California wildfire planners and disaster recovery personnel. The responders could accurately track how the fire moved, enabling firefighters to focus their efforts and assets to the hot spots. This cut response times and ultimately allowed first responders get to the fires quicker, saving lives and property.

"We received the Eagle Vision system in the fall of 2007," said Maj. Gen. Dennis G. Lucas, commander of the California Air National Guard. "Eagle Vision III was fully operational June 22 when the California fires began. We were able to use the imagery to predict fires for the next day. It provided a new capability critical to directing or repositioning fire crew aerial attacks. We are now down to 33 fires in the state, a decrease from more than 2100 initially."

Eagle Vision systems are located at four sites in the U.S., with up to seven satellites accessible to meet the 24/7 demand. These systems are operated and maintained by Air National Guardsmen from California, South Carolina, Hawaii and Alabama. There is also an active duty unit in Germany.

Federal and civilian agencies can request the imagery captured by Eagle Vision technicians who post it to an Eagle Vision portal and provide the complete package, networking with satellite and communication capability.

Eagle Vision was conceptualized in 1990 as a wartime asset. The program began with only one site and has expanded to the five computerized, deployable systems due to demand to assure imagery is readily available when and where needed. After hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, its value was realized here in the U. S. for disaster response and mitigation. Recently, Eagle Vision missions have expanded into other areas such as theater cooperation initiatives in the Pacific area.

Eagle Vision has been especially busy this year. Besides supporting disaster response teams during the recent U. S. tornados, Midwest flooding and California fires, the imagery was used globally for responders to Cyclone Nargis in Burma, recent major earthquakes in China, space and maritime test and evaluation and numerous disaster planning exercises.

As the Air Force organization here that provides defense support to civil authorities, air defense for the U.S., space shuttle support and search and rescue support to all states, Air Forces Northern Command maintains real-time visibility and networking capability with federal, government and civilian agencies. In this capacity, Air Forces Northern Command officials continue to provide vital support to American communities and access to the technology that gives first responders what they need to respond quickly across the U. S.

"The American people deserve to benefit from the best technology the government and Air Force can offer during disasters or times of need," said General Morrow. "First Air Force will continue to look for opportunities like Eagle Vision to provide the decision tools required to assist the leadership of local, state and federal governments in order to insure success for the American public."

"The 'Eagle Vision' Summit was an incredible learning experience and a great opportunity to coordinate with a wide variety of agencies to assure this imagery is put in the hands of first responders quickly, when and where they need it," said General Viens.

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