CAP ready for storms

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

4/8/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Spring is here, and with it comes the threat of severe weather. Terrible storms can strike at any moment, but Civil Air Patrol is ready to respond.

Civil Air Patrol was founded in 1941 one week before the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. The group flew critical wartime missions in support of the Army Air Corps. Now CAP offers emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education.

"We're generally known for our search and rescue support," said John Desmarais, interim director of operations for CAP. The group saves an average of 80 lives a year during these missions.

"(We) conduct 85 percent or more of the inland search and rescue missions for the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in the Continental United States and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico."

CAP is comprised of more than 61,000 members in 52 wings. Each state, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, has a wing. 35,000 CAP members are adult volunteers and the rest are cadets.

More than half of the 61,000 members serve in emergency services missions.

CAP doesn't just handle search and rescue missions, though. They support disaster operations for local, state and federal agencies.

"Most wings have established agreements with their states to define the particular needs for response locally, and they can be activated quickly. Generally, if there is a federal interest in the response, we will respond as the Air Force auxiliary," Mr. Desmarais said.

CAP coordinates with other disaster relief organizations and has regularly scheduled training, so when a disaster strikes, they can respond quickly.

"Generally, coordination is done well in advance. We try to establish formal agreements with the agencies and organizations that are involved in emergency response," Mr. Desmarais said. "From there, we do our best to train together on a regular basis so that when a major event occurs, everyone knows how we can work together, and we've ironed out any issues."

Even though hurricane season isn't here yet, other storms have been good preparation for the Civil Air Patrol.

"There are typically one or more disasters going on at any one time somewhere in the country that we are supporting, so there are always real-world activities and training happening, it seems," Mr. Desmarais said.

When a disaster occurs, emergency calls come through the national operations center at Maxwell, according to Mr. Desmarais. Once CAP accepts the mission and approves resources for the project, personnel are mobilized to the affected area. The group works to provide aerial impact and damage assessment imagery to various state and federal agencies as well as support on the ground in the event of a tornado or hurricane.

"The high-wing, single-engine Cessna aircraft that we typically fly are great low and slow platforms for airborne photography," he said. "We also have a lot of communications resources and personnel trained to the latest standards for incident command and management that support not only our own direct mission assignments, but also can fit into the local structure in many cases."

CAP encourages people to prepare for the upcoming season by having an emergency plan and getting the proper supplies.

"Most people don't take the necessary time to make an emergency plan and know what they are going to do, and that applies to your entire family. Have plans for home, work, school, etc.," Mr. Demarais said. "Make emergency kits to help yourselves when disaster strikes."

Kits should contain things like food, water, medical supplies and important documents, among other necessities.