Maxwell stages tornado relief
Col. Brian Killough, 42d Air Base Wing commander, talks to an emergency worker at the Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., staging area on April 29, 2011. Maxwell is serving as a staging area for the response to the tornado disaster that pummeled Alabama April 27. (Air Force photo/Christopher Kratzer)
by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs
5/6/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Local and federal emergency agencies began arriving at Maxwell Air Force Base last week in response to the April 27 storms that ravaged the state. Maxwell is serving as an incident support base for ongoing disaster relief efforts in the northern part of the state.
Col. Brian Killough, commander of the 42nd Air Base Wing, said the base is ready to aid the disaster relief efforts in any way it can. Part of that aid is providing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies a staging area to handle supplies and logistics. That area was up and running about 16 hours after FEMA received the call to respond.
"When FEMA gets requests for support for the disasters that have gone on in northern Alabama, they bring supplies and logistics in here," Colonel Killough said. "We park them out here (in the FEMA staging area), then the agency sends the supplies forward in the exact numbers and types of supplies that are needed to specific locations. We keep the inventory here and deliver supplies to the point of need in the northern counties."
While providing a location for FEMA's incident support base is a large part of Maxwell's role, the base is also working with federal and local agencies to provide any additional assistance it can.
"We are integrated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state emergency management agency, so that if there are requests we can fulfill as part of the president's federal declaration of emergency here in Alabama, we can help fulfill those needs as they're vetted by the proper agencies," Colonel Killough said.
Bond Luddeke, manager of the FEMA incident support base at Maxwell, is working closely with other agencies and private businesses to provide survivors with the supplies they need.
"We are working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Forestry Commission. We are also working with a lot of private industry," Mr. Luddeke said. "We are trying to bring in commodities, generators and other necessary equipment to support the victims here in Alabama."
After supplies are brought in to Maxwell, disaster relief officials in the affected areas will coordinate with the incident support base to have the supplies delivered.
"Over the next few weeks, we'll be providing food, water, emergency medical equipment, tarps and other commodities. Whatever the state asks for to support the disaster victims, we provide," Mr. Luddeke said. "Contrary to what people think, we don't direct anything. We all just work together in concert (with the other agencies) to solve whatever issues might arise."
Mr. Luddeke said he was very grateful for the support Maxwell has offered.
"Maxwell has been terrific. As soon as we got here, they had everything laid out for us. They've been getting us any resources we need. They've provided us a building and food," he said. "Anything we've asked for they've been able to get us. Representatives from Maxwell are always asking 'What can I do to help you?' and we try to offer them the same help."
While FEMA and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency are working to provide supplies to victims, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be working to restore power and vital systems to affected areas.
Marc Wallowicz, part of the emergency power planning and response team, is responsible for ensuring FEMA generators are installed at critical facilities, including hospitals, police stations, shelters and government offices. The group hopes to have critical facilities up quickly but said it would take longer to restore power to the rest of the areas.
"We'll be here until all power is restored to the entire state, but that could be anywhere from two weeks to 30 days," Mr. Wallowicz said.
Alabama Forestry Commission management team member Jerry Smith said cooperation between various agencies is key.
"It's extremely important, as you know, to have that sense of cooperation in order to accomplish any set of objectives or goals," he said. "Otherwise, you're just pulling against each other and you're not going to get much done. Our concern, like the other agencies, is to serve the citizens that are so distressed and suffering from this catastrophic event."
While Maxwell is playing a critical role in the support of the disaster relief efforts, Colonel Killough assured people that base personnel were the first priority.
"The first thing we did was go out and try to get 100-percent accountability for our Airmen, their families, our contractors and civilians. We've achieved that accountability," Colonel Killough said.
"We had some major damage at one of our recreation sites (on Lake Martin), but no one was injured. We are very blessed to be able to be here and offer our support to the state of Alabama and to the people of this nation," he said.
In addition, the base chapel will be collecting donations Sunday for Alabama tornado relief on behalf of the American Red Cross.
Another agency headquartered at Maxwell took an aerial role in the relief effort.
Civil Air Patrol members from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia have volunteered their time and aircraft to capture aerial photographs of the affected towns and villages, while also providing airborne communication support as needed.
As of April 29, CAP has flown 20 sorties, shot more than 2,000 high-quality photos, and provided nine aircraft, each with a pilot, observer and scanner aboard.
"It's important to remember that CAP pilots participate in Air Force missions strictly on a voluntary basis," said Mark Obrien, CAP liaison officer for Air Forces Northern at Tyndall AFB, Fla.
"In instances like these, when people's lives and homes are at stake, it goes without saying that the generous and selfless nature of our CAP pilots comes immediately to the forefront, and we often find ourselves with more volunteers than actual assigned missions. It's a clear example of the caliber of people who volunteer their time and energy to the Air Force auxiliary."
In its role as the Air Force auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol performs missions for the Department of Defense, federal agencies, or state and local authorities when federal or national-level interest or assistance is requested. CAP, when federalized, is under the operational control of Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, the Joint Forces Air Component commander.
"We stand ready to support any state or local agency that may need our assistance," General Dean said. "The Air Force auxiliary is one of many assets my organization has available to help out during natural disasters."
Emergency preparedness liaison officers from the affected states are on stand-by "should the call from a governor or parish president come to us. We hope our fellow American citizens who have been so deeply affected by these storms know they have our support, prayers and hope for a rapid recovery," said General Dean.
Lt. Col. Susan A. Romano of First Air Force Public Affairs and Air University Public Affairs staff contributed to this report.