ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas --
As Hurricane Harvey approached Houston, Texas, on August 23, 2017, the 147th Attack Wing, part of the Texas Air National Guard located at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base (JRB), Texas, activated personnel to mobilize the Crisis Action Team (CAT) and Emergency Operation Center (EOC).
As personnel began to arrive, the wing held initial planning meetings in anticipation of the hurricane, focusing on physically preparing the base for the storm, as well as plans to contact and assist airmen and their families, including families of deployed airmen.
The CAT prepared to coordinate all Ellington Field support, bringing multiple agencies together to provide search and rescue capabilities. It also gives guidance to the EOC, Ellington Field JRB's central command and control agency for emergency management during disasters.
Col. Matthew Barker, the Vice Wing Commander of the 147th Attack Wing and the Deputy CAT Director, helped identify important aspects of preparation. The CAT organized and delivered priorities for each unit on the base, including pre-positioned search and rescue equipment and personnel, ready to help the city of Houston in recovery efforts.
"The 147th Attack Wing's Crisis Action Team and Emergency Operations Center staff really came together to get Ellington Field through this crisis,” said Barker.
“Their persistence and focus, under tough conditions working long days, kept the base fully functional for the Attack Wing, USCG Air Station Houston, Texas Army National Guard, and other tenant units.“
Wing members secured vehicles, gathered cots, food, and water, and assisted the local detachment of the 138th Fighter Wing with the evacuation of their aircraft back to Oklahoma before the hurricane arrived.
The following day, the CAT and EOC began supporting recovery efforts. The EOC team, with only half of its personnel, conducted hurricane preparation checklists, including making sure computer systems, communication channels, and radios were all operational. Tech. Sgt. Lyndsey Barclays, the EOC Manager, helped spearhead those efforts.
“The intended course of action for the limited personnel on base was to ride out the storm and begin recovery actions after the rain subsided so the base would immediately be ready for Air Hub Operations,” said Barclays.
The understaffed EOC team began to conduct limited missions to support the base and Houston until everyone was in place a week later. Between the CAT, EOC, and other supporting units, approximately 30 personnel volunteered to stay on the base to monitor the hurricane and quickly setup and conduct search and rescue operations.
“Beginning with just 30 members and expanding once the recovery was underway, this core team rode out the storm and preserved Ellington's vital capability as a 24/7 regional power projection platform for the state of Texas,” said Barker.
Members of the core team shared a multitude of duties as well. A Comptroller Flight member road out on high-profile military vehicles to pick up wing personnel, Group Commanders marshalled arriving aircraft, and a Staff Judge Advocate member helped coordinate rescue efforts of one of our unit members and his family.
“We had not anticipated multiple periods of heavy rain and flooding followed by periods of clear skies in which we would be running operations. However we stayed flexible and adapted to the situation to do the most good when the opportunities arose,” said Barclays.
On August 25, Hurricane Harvey arrived at Ellington Field, dumping more than five inches of rain from Friday night through Saturday afternoon. Another 16 inches of rain fell on the base from Saturday night through mid-day Sunday.
”I informed the EOC when the heaviest of the rainfall would occur so they can make preparations for flood prone areas on base and implement mitigation measures,” Lt. Col. Mark Wiley, Commander of the 111th Weather Flight said.
A total of more than 40 inches of rain fell at Ellington, and the highest winds were recorded at more than 45 miles per hour.
Search and rescue missions continued while the hurricane lingered into the next week, while also ensuring personnel safety and accountability and base operations.
On August 28, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, activated the entire Texas National Guard. Over the course of the relief efforts, the 147th Attack Wing partnered with all branches of the military, including the United States Coast Guard, the city of Houston, and the Army National Guard, with Ellington Field JRB as the jumping off point to support Houston and other local communities.
Throughout the recovery efforts, the unit coordinated with 13 agencies and worked with eight other Air National Guard units. Ground efforts resulted in four high water entry missions transporting over 50 personnel including military and civilians, saved eight personnel, transferred 178 personnel, received 50 emergency calls, and coordinated over 1600 military personnel on base to assist in response and recovery efforts. Air assets flew over 40 reconnaissance missions which several partnered with USCG resulting in rescuing more than 200 lives, and set up 14 landing zones which allowed for the transportation of 1,640 evacuees.
“We are proud of our citizen-Airman and how they rose to meet the challenge of this historic disaster, because the recovery from Hurricane Harvey started at Ellington Field,” said Barker.