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USTRANSCOM ready for worst hurricanes can muster

by Bob Fehringer
U.S. Transportation Command Public Affairs

8/31/2007 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFPN) -- As Hurricane Dean converged on the Gulf of Mexico in August, members of the U.S. Transportation Command were prepared for the worst its winds could muster.

In support of United States Northern Command, aeromedical capabilities such as personnel and equipment were forward -deployed to Texas, and a joint assessment team from McGuire AFB, N.J., went to Puerto Rico in anticipation of Hurricane Dean.

"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 Lt. Col. Patrick Owens the deputy of Global Division, operations and plans directorate.

"FEMA, (Federal Emergency Management Agency) as well as USNORTHCOM, which we support, began to convene video teleconferences to discuss and plan a potential response," the colonel said.

USTRANSCOM transported specially-equipped FEMA and USNORTHCOM emergency response and command and control vehicles Aug.16 to Puerto Rico. The command started 24-hour hurricane response operations in the USTRANSCOM deployment and distributions operations center as well.

"We also started moving a Deployment and Distribution Operations Center-Forward to FEMA Headquarters and the National Guard Bureau," Colonel Owens said.

The center 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 was a 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," Colonel 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. 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," Colonel Owens said. "There were C-130 (Hercules) and crews on alert at Little Rock Air Force Base (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," Colonel Owens said.

"We have worked very closely with planners from FEMA, USNORTHCOM, AMC and TACC (Tanker Airlift Control Center)," the colonel said.

"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."

Throughout the hurricane season, if state and federal officials feel threatened by a hurricane, FEMA can request DOD assistance, said Colonel Owens. If tasked, USTRANSCOM, as a supporting combatant command to USNORTHCOM, would respond to carry out any tasks requiring USTRANSCOM capabilities, expertise or resources, he said.

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