Military airborne imagery supported immediate hurricane recovery efforts

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | September 19, 2008

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Video and still imagery provided by military aircraft after Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast gave responders on the ground their first look at affected areas in Texas and Louisiana.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Northern Command provided a variety of aircraft to gather photos and video that allowed local, state and federal response assets to quickly and effectively respond to situations that required support.

“The airborne Incident Awareness and Assessment campaign for Ike was very successful,” said Gen. Gene Renuart, USNORTHCOM commander. “The campaign included aircraft from the Department of Defense and our interagency partners at the Environmental Protection Agency, National Guard Bureau, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Association, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

During Hurricane Ike’s initial post-landfall period, weather didn’t permit traditional airborne sensor access, so the primary capability used was airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar, which penetrates cloud cover. USNORTHCOM’s airborne assets, the U.S. Navy’s Global Hawk Maritime Demonstrator from Patuxent River, Md., and a U.S. Navy P-3 from Jacksonville, Fla., were the first aircraft in place after Ike made landfall. Global Hawk SAR was used for specific point locations and wide area damage assessment, while the P-3 provided full-motion video support for the collective search and rescue mission.

The Global Hawk Maritime Demonstrator flew a 24-hour mission to provide the first look at Ike’s aftermath. Officials initially requested coverage of 299 primary infrastructure areas, but the Global Hawk team added additional locations while in flight and provided 558 near-real-time high-resolution day/night, all-weather images of the damaged area within the first 24 hours of Ike’s landfall.

"It is critical to get information to the search and rescue personnel on the street so they can reach isolated or trapped survivors. The loss of landmarks is a huge navigation problem for emergency responders coming from other states and cities,” National Association for Search and Rescue President Kathy Miller said. “When access roads are impassable and usual communications systems are intermittent or dead, aerial images are frequently the only way to survey areas of devastation.”

All imagery was promptly shared directly with USNORTHCOM’s interagency partners at the Centers for Disease Control, Coast Guard District 8, Department of Transportation, National Guard Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA, NASA, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Association, Red Cross, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and University of Texas Remote Sensing Center.

“Rescuers on the ground, and the emergency incident managers that direct them to where they are most needed, need and greatly appreciate the information obtained by the U.S. military and the federal agencies that worked in the air with them," Miller said.

Military aircraft and satellites are used to capture visual information during times of national emergencies or crises only to help save lives, prevent suffering and survey vital infrastructure by helping to direct response efforts as determined by local, state, and federal agencies.

USNORTHCOM’s Incident Awareness and Assessment collection plan is conducted in accordance with all federal laws and governmental policies regarding the capture of visual information inside the United States.

USNORTHCOM is the joint combatant command formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to provide homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities. The command is responsible for the operational control of all active-duty military responses to a disaster when requested by the state and ordered by the president and the secretary of defense. USNORTHCOM continues to provide DoD capabilities for disaster response operations in support of the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of the Interior/National Interagency Fire Center, and state and local officials.