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JBSA set for hurricane season

By Brent Boller | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 15, 2010

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Joint Base San Antonio planners and operators watched closely as Hurricane Alex approached South Texas June 29. The joint base was prepared to provide relief operations and ready for airlift or evacuation support needed in the aftermath of the storm.

On June 30, Alex made landfall in Northern Mexico. The damage to Texas was minimal and the preparatory actions taken by JBSA weren't needed - this time.

The Atlantic hurricane season is young and forecasters believe this year could rival that of 2008 which saw Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Dolly. That means JBSA and other military organizations and civilian response agencies could be very busy during the next three to four months.

Willie Monroe, 502nd Air Base Wing emergency manager, said JBSA provides one focal point for local civil authorities and Federal Emergency Management Agency to request military assistance. Mr. Monroe is also the JBSA representative at the City of San Antonio Emergency Operations Center during large scale contingencies.

"In the past, city officials and FEMA would contact each base for support. Now, requests will be made through the 502nd ABW command post who will relay the request to Brig. Gen. Leonard Patrick (502nd ABW commander) for approval," he said.

Mr. Monroe said that during Hurricane Alex, FEMA requested parking space for at least 1,000 logistical and command and control vehicles at Seguin Auxiliary Airfield.

"Lackland was poised to provide billeting, pet kenneling and transportation potentially for several thousand military members and their families evacuated from locations near the Texas coast," he said.

Preparations were also made at Randolph AFB for the possible arrival of search-and-rescue teams and aircraft from coastal-area installation seeking safe-harbor.

In addition to JBSA, U.S. Army North, headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, plays a pivotal role.

"As the U.S. Northern Command, joint force land component command we most likely would deploy the FEMA Region VI defense coordinating element from Denton, Texas," said Donald Manuszewski, chief of public information at U.S. Army North.

Personnel from U.S. Army North headquarters would augment the element, working with FEMA and other federal partners to anticipate state and local needs for military assistance, according to Mr. Manuszewski.

Army North Headquarters also has a liaison officer representing Air Forces Northern who provides a voice for the air assets which complement the ground components.

Oftentimes during hurricane evacuations, hospital patients must be transported from coastal areas inland to San Antonio. The massive job of coordinating that process falls to the Federal Coordinating Center of the National Disaster Medical System attached to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.

"If called upon, we would set up operations to receive patients evacuated from the coast," said Sgt. Maj. Duane Waddle of the Federal Coordinating Center. "We'd coordinate with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council and the Air Force to receive the patients at the old Kelly Field flight line, then we'd route them to NDMS-designated hospitals in the San Antonio area."

Mr. Monroe said JBSA will continue conducting exercises simulating hurricane evacuation scenarios to ensure they are ready to respond when needed.

"It's a huge undertaking with several moving parts; the more we train the better we will be prepared when we have to provide support."