Civil Air Patrol springs to action in weather emergencies

Lt. Col. Bill Shook (foreground) and Maj. Ben Cole complete preflight procedures before taking off from Eagle Aviation at Columbia Metropolitan Airport on their first aerial photography mission. Both men are assistant directors of operations for the South Carolina Wing.

The South Carolina Wing was alerted on Sept. 7 to support state and federal emergency service agencies in preparation for Hurricane Florence.

Members assisted with the evacuation of coastal residents on Sept. 11 and then provided reconnaissance for weeks after the hurricane came ashore on Sept. 13, with more than 200 cadet and senior members participating.

The wing assisted the South Carolina Emergency Management Division in documenting road traffic issues during evacuation.

After the hurricane passed, members identified flood- and wind-damaged areas where residents were struggling to escape. They also reported on damage to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, roads and dams.

Over nearly two months, aircrews spent 415 hours aloft, took nearly 8,000 aerial photographs and transported government officials to observe flood and wind damage.

For the first time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency tasked wing squadrons with measuring the depth of the flooding and debris trails and reporting on the extent of damage and the immediate needs of people in the path of the storm.

South Carolina Wing members coordinated their missions with those of other emergency responders, including highway patrol officers, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, federal agency personneland others.

One lesson learned from recent hurricanes is that the wing must recruit and train more members to conduct emergency missions over a longer duration.