Kansas Air National Guard reinforces Texas responders

Staff Sgt. Luke Vanderpool, 161st Intelligence Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard, uses commercial satellite imagery to find routes that are clear for first responders to travel through. Vanderpool was activated in response to Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that flooded Houston and the surrounding area in late August. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs

WICHITA—Airmen assigned to the 184th Intelligence Wing reported to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Aug. 31, to assist in the ongoing relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas.

The Category 4 hurricane reached its full intensity right as it made landfall Aug. 25 near Rockport, Texas.

Four days of concentrated rainfall caused catastrophic flooding in the region, engulfing thousands of homes and causing massive evacuations.

As a result, Texas Governor Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard for search and rescue, as well as recovery and clean-up operations. At the request of Texas, other states, including Kansas, have joined those efforts.

“In response to their request, the Air National Guard stood up the ten different unclassified Processing Analysis and Dissemination sites around the country to provide support here,” said Maj. Dave Olds, officer in charge of the Processing Analysis and Dissemination cell.

The PAD sites receive video footage and imagery of the area and make products that are used by civilian and military personnel making decisions on the ground. Products include maps and images, aerial video clips, lists of blocked roadways, and more.

While other Air National Guard units were locating people, these Airmen  were playing a different role.

“The search and rescue phase of the operation is going to last probably another 24 to 72 hours,” said Olds. “There are units much like ours here that are out doing that right now; looking for people that are stranded on rooftops or whatever the case might be. We are more focused on getting the regional assets to those people.”

Airports were the main priority of the day.

“We’re doing some flood analysis products for some of the regional airports in and around the Houston area,” said Olds.

As the National Guard and other agencies bring personnel, supplies and vehicles, finding a runway that isn’t flooded becomes significant.

Regional airports were also being used as evacuation hubs.

“That’s important because right now they’re taking a lot of evacuees to these airports and then taking them via [medical evacuation] or ground transport to hospitals if they need help,” said Olds. “They’re kind of a consolidation point for those people that have been rescued.”

The PAD is a program that was developed over that last few years. Kansas is no stranger to devastating storms, and supporting emergency management agencies is one of the key focuses of the 184th Intelligence Wing.

“We’ve built this capability up over the past several years as an enterprise,” said Olds. “However, this is really the first massive-scale event that they’ve used incident awareness and assessment.”

The hard work seemed to pay off, though the real reward was the opportunity to serve.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for our analysts here to get this experience,” said Olds. “It’s really humbling to be part of this, but this is what we do as Guardsmen.”

“I don’t personally know anybody on the ground that’s been affected by this but, they might as well be my neighbors,” said Olds. “It means a lot to us to be able to provide good support to them.”