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Ohio Task Force One to ready depart for Haiti from WPAFB

by Derek Kaufman
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

1/17/2010 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- An 80-member urban search and rescue team is packed and ready to go here, hoping their unit will be the next to fly into earthquake ravaged Haiti.

Ohio Task Force One is composed of volunteer members from throughout Ohio and northern Kentucky, highly trained people anxious provide search and rescue for those trapped under collapsed buildings due to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti Tuesday.

When they leave Ohio and land in Haiti's stricken capital city, Port au Prince, the team will be completely self-sufficient. The nearly 60 tons of cargo they will take with them includes six rescue canines, four pickup trucks with trailers, a van. The 19 pallets of cargo contain search cameras, hammers to break through concrete, water and food. The team has enough supplies to conduct efforts for about 10 days.

"We've been tasked to be on readiness alert to deploy into Haiti at a moment's notice," said Doug Cope, Task Force leader.

After spending the night in lodging at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Jan. 14, the team was awakened with news that two U.S. Air Force C-17s would arrive Friday morning to take them to Haiti.

Mr. Cope said he assembled and briefed the team, but then got word that the jets were re-tasked to another priority mission to provide American aid to the people of Haiti.

"This is a very fluid situation," said Col. Tim Donohue, commander of the 88th Mission Support Group at Wright-Patterson.

Colonel Donohue said it's not at all unusual for the flow and sequencing of airlift to change in the early stages of a large-scale humanitarian effort, to ensure whatever is most urgently needed at that moment gets to the destination.

In this case, the destination is Port au Prince International Airport, where a growing cadre of Airmen and joint service members are helping establish a vital life-saving mobility hub.

"There are a lot of moving parts," said Colonel Donohue. "We're proud to have a supporting role here at Wright-Patt."

Colonel Donohue described the Air Force effort supporting the U.S. Southern Command as part of a larger American response coordinated by the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. The contributions of other nations and international relief agencies all must be carefully choreographed to prevent chokepoints, he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Cope's urban search and rescue team urgently hopes their turn to deploy will come soon.

"We're here for the long haul, until we get demobilization orders from Washington," Mr. Cope said. "We're planning on leaving the equipment as it is packaged and ready to go."

The majority of Ohio Task Force One members are firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The team also includes physicians, paramedics, structural engineers, hazardous materials specialists and canine teams trained to locate those who are trapped, rapidly extricate them and provide emergency medical care. When they arrive at a disaster area, members often work in six-person squads.

The OH-TF1 is one of 28 highly-trained incident response rescue teams throughout the United States that support the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Team members said they report to the Department of State for this deployment to foreign soil in Haiti.

"All of the information we've been getting from our counterparts that are on the ground from the Virginia and California teams -- as well as news reports we've been seeing on the national outlets -- is there are a lot of rescues being made and there are still a lot of people that are trapped and entombed in these buildings that are viable victims that could be saved."

The Ohio team deployed in September of last year to support response efforts following Hurricanes Gustaf and Ike. Also, Ohio Task Force One's capabilities were fully engaged at New York's Ground Zero following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's definitely an honor to be called upon to represent your country and to help those in desperate need," said, Scott Anding executive director of the Miami Valley Fire/EMS Alliance. Mr. Anding also serves as the sponsoring agency chief for Ohio Task Force One. "We really appreciate the Air Force's
support and hope we can fly out soon."

In addition to preparing air freight for shipment, Wright-Patterson Airmen and civilian employees are providing the team with on-base lodging, transportation and meals.

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