ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas --
Hurricane Harvey invaded the Gulf Coast of Texas, Government agencies from
across the nation converged to provide support. But the storm’s sheer size and
power made rescue and assistance unmanageable for individual organizations, each
struggling to keep up with increasing emergency calls and minute-to-minute
changes in conditions.
delivered America its worst natural disaster, it also provided the chance for some
of America’s bravest and brightest to shine through teamwork and ingenuity.
Goldberg, Texas State Air Operations Center (AOC) Incident Assessment and
Awareness (IAA) Director, watched from his Houston home as the hurricane
reached the Texas Gulf Coast. Also a member of the 111th Attack Squadron, part
of the Texas Air National Guard’s 147th Attack Wing located at Ellington Field Joint
Reserve Base near Houston, he prepared to join his squadron as the massive storm
The 111 ATKS has
been a source of innovation for 100 years. In 1917, the 111th “Aces” trained
some of America’s first military pilots, and later provided the first mapping,
aerial photography, and reconnaissance missions in the Texas National Guard. A
century later, the Aces faced a new kind of enemy in Hurricane Harvey.
aware that the diverse range of organizations arriving to offer disaster
assistance did not normally coordinate with each other. He and his 111 ATKS
Weapons and Tactics team recognized the need for an ad-hoc Air Support
Operations Center (ASOC) capable of consolidating all emergency response
efforts. The process of proposing, planning, developing, and building such a
capability can take years. But people were facing life and death, so no one had
the luxury of time.
So they stood
up an ASOC in just three days.
immediately formed a team to develop a plan with other 147th Attack Wing units,
including their own assessment and awareness experts, Communications personnel,
and Civil Engineers. A total of nearly 200 people worked non-stop as Harvey
began its assault on Texas.
Nearby, at the
U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston operations center at Ellington Field, rescue
calls began pouring in. But without a way to verify their exact location, only
a third of those callers were still in place when help arrived.
Guard and Civil Air Patrol units joined crews flying RC-26 aircraft from the
147th Operations Group’s Counterdrug Operations Task Force, to help rescue
of the ASOC were brought together, team members were integrated with other
on-base agencies. Major Travis Williams, chief of 111 ATKS Weapons and Tactics,
stationed himself in Ellington Field’s air traffic control tower, where he
remained from sunrise to sunset for three days to manage communications. Major
Nick Sammons, 111 ATKS Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, set up a
workspace in the Coast Guard’s operations center to help locate and track
participating agencies in real time was crucial, and would require specific cutting-edge
technology. Goldberg knew that technology existed within the 163d Attack Wing
at March Air Reserve Base, California. So he called them to activate their Hap
Arnold Innovation Center of Excellence.
Arnold Center, created under the direction of James G. Clark at Air Force Headquarters,
had developed the Airspace Reporting Exchange System (ARES). ARES, a web-based
application, provides real-time imagery, data, and full-motion video that can
be shared between every government agency during their missions. A mobile
version of the application was also available for remote and on-location
personnel. Another Hap Arnold Center product, Eagle Vision, organizes and
delivers satellite imagery, was implemented to support locating victims.
hours, Goldberg’s team was already working around the clock to maintain live
communications for rescue operations while the ASOC took shape.
More support steadily
arrived. More RC-26 crews and aircraft from four states, as well as Army National
Guard and Civil Air Patrol units from across the country, joined in the war
later, just as the new ASOC came to life, Harvey’s ongoing assault overwhelmed
a reservoir in Vidor, Texas. A levee began releasing water into the surrounding
area, stranding more than 100 people at the town’s elementary school.
But now the
ASOC was up and running, and Joint Task Force Harvey was ready.
for emergency assistance were received, the ASOC could connect all responders
and plan a coordinated response. From the ground to space, agencies could now
locate, verify, organize, and act with one consolidated effort. Flooded areas
were monitored from high above by RC-26 aircraft, and their information was fed
to all responders. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could contact
available support close to the affected area. The Texas Department of Public
Service (DPS) was able to more quickly respond to incidents needing police
intervention. Civil Air Patrol units from across the country also provided more
than 30 Cessna aircraft with 4K high-definition imagery and full-motion video of
affected areas to responders. NASA delivered satellite-based weather condition
updates that could impact rescues.
Vidor, ASOC coordination ensured all 100 people stranded at the elementary
school were successfully rescued.
the Vidor mission, ASOC coordination helped 50 more people stranded near the
Brazos River. In the days that followed, they directly managed 10 rescues and assisted
10 more, saving hundreds of lives. Teamwork with the Coast Guard also increased
their rescue effectiveness from 30 percent to 100 percent. Together, 40 search
and rescue incidents saved more than 200 lives.
team, 147 ATKW personnel, and dozens of other military units, were beginning to
win battles against Harvey.
quick to point out the importance of each team and each member.
effort took 200 dedicated people from many different specialties. If we didn’t
have dedicated and innovative people in each unit, willing to think outside the
box, this could not have been possible,” said Goldberg.
these men and women in these circumstances, even while our own families and
homes were in distress, makes me very proud to be a Texan and a Guardsman.”
David McMinn, Commander of the Texas Air National Guard, visited Ellington
Field JRB as search and support missions continued. He was impressed by the 111
ASOC endeavor, but not surprised.
coordination of mission planning and aircraft availability, this base has
created a capability all agencies needed to efficiently support the overall
mission. More than consolidating capabilities, you’ve reinforced important
relationships needed to make this work. The fact that the Texas Guard built
this is an example of the skills and ingenuity of our men and women. This is a
truly vital capability we can provide and support for other states facing
similar disasters in the future,” said General McMinn.
“We are all
very thankful for the help from so many other agencies in many other states.
This mission has been successful only as a result of 40 states working
together. Nobody could do this alone.”
continued long after the storm left Texas. But the reprieve allowed additional
personnel to arrive, relieving those working 24-hour shifts. It also allowed
leadership to consider the impact of such a strenuous situation on their
we can also step back to see how this mission has gone, what the Guard’s piece
of the big picture should be, and how we can support this need without
overextending our people.”