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Homeland Security

Schriever brings total-force support to Katrina relief

by Ed Parsons
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

9/12/2005 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) -- Space experts here are working around the clock to provide space system capabilities to civilian and military agencies, allowing the agencies to save lives and provide food, medicine and clothing to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Airmen with the 50th Operations Group here provide navigation and communications capabilities, while the 50th Network Operations Group assures access to satellites supporting military humanitarian troops and various national agencies.

As Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, the 22nd Space Operations Squadron allowed continuous access to critical National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather spacecraft. The information provided vital insight into the storm’s progress, allowing local, state and national authorities to fine-tune their emergency responses.

“NOAA doesn’t get critical space-based information without 22nd SOPS making the connection for them to their spacecraft,” said Lt. Col. Michael Moran, 22nd SOPS commander. “The satellite images we saw on the news of the swirling winds of Katrina on the Gulf Coast were brought to Earth thanks to the men and women of the Air Force Satellite Control Network.”

The team of 22nd and 23rd SOPS Airmen planned and ran the network missions while the 50th Space Communications Squadron and 21st SOPS provided communications capability to move the weather pictures from the satellite control network remote tracking stations to the administation’s operations center, Colonel Moran said.

The Air Force Reserve’s 6th SOPS began observing Katrina when it started as a tropical depression Aug 23. The unit provides backup capability to NOAA and provides timely environmental data to every military service and to civilian agencies such as the National Hurricane Center.

During the next seven days, 6th SOPS and NOAA collected data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. They handled 112 supports, providing 189 hours of forecast data, with 84 supports taken directly through AFSCN resources, said Maj. Anna Stuckwisch, 6th SOPS assistant director of operations.

An initial critical issue following the hurricane was the lack of communications capabilities. Military satellites provided greatly needed communications capabilities to help coordinate logistics and humanitarian relief efforts and support Navy ships, Marines and other military troops arriving in the Gulf Coast area.

The 3rd SOPS used three Defense Satellite Communications System satellites for direct support of Katrina relief efforts. The system provides communications ranging from telephone to high-data rate communications such as video and imagery. It is the most-used military satellite communications system and provides global capabilities to users from all branches of military service and various federal agencies.

“It makes our mission that much more real when we see the impact of Katrina on television and know how our mission directly helps with this crisis,” said Capt. Bruce Mitchell, chief of DSCS engineering at 3rd SOPS.

As of Sept. 6, the military presence in the rescue effort included 21 Navy ships, 350 helicopters, an equal number of fixed-wing aircraft and nearly 60,000 servicemembers. Much of this operation depends on space communications and navigation systems.

The Milstar satellite system, operated by 4th SOPS, provides critical strategic communications to all branches of military service for humanitarian and security operations. Both ground and naval forces operate on Milstar to provide voice, data and video teleconferencing communications to U.S. Northern Command’s Katrina operations.

Milstar operators assisted NORTHCOM, U.S. Joint Forces Command and other national planners to coordinate necessary resources for hurricane relief operations. As relief efforts continue, 4th SOPS expects Milstar use for Katrina operations to increase significantly.

The Global Positioning System satellite operated by 2nd SOPS plays a multitude of roles during relief operations.

Before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the Hurricane Hunters from the 53rd Air Force Reserve Weather Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. -- now relocated to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. -- used GPS to track the strength, direction and speed of the hurricane.

The Centers for Disease Control, noting immediate needs of public health agencies in the stricken areas, identified GPS receivers along with satellite phones and laptop computers as urgently needed supplies by response teams.

Search-and-rescue Airmen use GPS to find and retrieve flood victims and identify locations of deceased victims. It was also used to locate utility boxes and navigate through flooded and destroyed areas no longer marked by roads or mapped water routes.

Many corporate companies and retailers provided water, food and other emergency aid following the hurricane. The largest retailer in the U.S. sent about 1,200 trucks of supplies to the area and coordinated this massive effort through their emergency response center by using the company’s GPS satellite tracking system. (Courtesy of Air Force Space Command News Service)

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