Civil Air Patrol Takes Flight to Document Michael's Path
By Lt. Col. Andrew Oppmann
Southeast Region Director of Public Affairs
Civil Air Patrol’s Florida Wing flew six aerial photograph missions Thursday to document the devastating damage by Hurricane Michael’s landfall on the state’s Panhandle region.
Lt. Col. Bill Weiler, one of the wing’s incident commanders, said the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force was flying sorties until daylight faded.
Weiler’s team, flying two aircraft out of Pensacola and Tallahassee, was given 10 aerial photo targets by federal disaster relief officials. “If we don’t complete all 10 of the current flight tasks before losing light,” he said, “they will be done in the morning.”
Weiler said Florida Wing crews focused mostly on damage assessments of federal property in the Panhandle, the area hardest hit when the Category 4 storm roared into the state at Mexico Beach Wednesday with winds clocked at 155 miles an hour.
He added, “We’re doing road access assessment to facilitate better ground relief routing. We can identify flooding, damage and large debris blocked areas emergency services and residents may encounter in the impacted areas.”
CAP, acting as the Air Force Auxiliary, is supporting Air Force Northern (AFNORTH) during Defense Support of Civil Authorities operations following the landfall of Michael on the Gulf Coast.
AFNORTH's primary role is to support U.S. Northern Command's efforts to provide assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts.
Col. Barry Melton, commander of CAP’s Southeast Region, said his six-wing group established an area command to respond to missions related to the storm’s aftermath, which he described as “a coordination point for personnel and resources flowing in and out of the affected area.”
The effort, headed by Lt. Col. Joe Knight, will also maintain contact with the Atlanta regional headquarters of FEMA, Melton said.
“The Southeast Region stands ready to assist the affected areas, including the Carolinas, if needed,” he said.
CAP's Southeast Region includes about 10,000 members serving in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, as well as Tennessee, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, CAP crews received 18 mission taskings and completed two sorties over four counties in the southwest part of Georgia.
Col. Carlton Sumner, Georgia Wing’s director of emergency services, said members are uploading aerial photos from those sorties to federal and state officials, who will use them “to triage damage and response to those in need.”
Sumner said the storm presented some unique challenges. “The rapid movement required a constantly evolving plan, particularly with respect to available personnel and assets,” he said. “From hour to hour, we had to update that information.”
For example, Sumner said, areas in the extreme southeast and coastal Georgia were originally in the tropical storm wind path, making those units unavailable for deployment. However, when the storm took a more north-northeast route, we gained the use of those members.
“We always emphasize safety first,” he said. “Most Georgia Wing members appear to be safe. But, we are still awaiting full reports from those in the heavily affected southwest part of the state.”