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AFNORTH prepares for 2021 hurricane season with ARNORTH in collaboration with interagency partners

  • Published
  • By Air Forces Northern
  • First Air Force

First Air Force (AFNORTH), along with 200 military and civilian partners, gathered both in-person and virtually for a Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) Drill hosted by Fifth Army (ARNORTH) at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas on June 3.

Participants in the rehearsal prepare to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead federal agency for hurricane response during the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which began June 1. In addition to response and recovery-focused discussions, partners also expressed thoughts on national resiliency in support of the National Response Framework.

“Last year, six major hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. with four in Louisiana,” said Brig. Gen. William Betts, vice commander, AFNORTH. “This training was crucial to resetting the entire joint/interagency team just in case we are called upon this season.”

The National Preparedness Goal defines what it means for the whole community to be prepared for all types of disasters and emergencies. According to FEMA, the goal itself is: “A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”

U.S. Army North, the Army service component command of USNORTHCOM, organized the Hurricane ROC Drill as part of its defense support of civil authorities’ mission, one of the command’s three missions, but not the most important.

“Our primary mission remains homeland defense,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, ARNORTH commander, who challenged participants to think through the complex challenges in responding simultaneously to a homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities mission, and across all domains.

The ROC Drill allowed military participants from U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), National Guard Bureau, U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Army Forces Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others from across the joint force, to rehearse alongside civilian partners during hurricane response operations following receipt of an approved request for support for military assistance from FEMA.

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, who led USNORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command from May 2016 to May 2018, was a virtual guest speaker during the event.

During her remarks, she said last year’s hurricane season was interesting, but this year’s will be compelling.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher) in 2021, of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).

“Every year and every hurricane is different,” said Robinson.

Differing problems and locales often require unique and different solutions. During the 2020 season, among other contributions AFNORTH activated U.S. Air Force C-130H Hercules aircraft equipped with Modular Aerial Spray Systems (MASS), and approximately 85 Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, who deployed to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, to conduct mosquito control aerial spray missions over southern Louisiana.  The heavy rains from two hurricanes resulted in increasing numbers of mosquitoes, which could have spread disease and could also hinder recovery workers.

Robinson, who oversaw military support to FEMA during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, described ARNORTH’s ROC Drill scenario as perfect, emphasizing the rehearsal will allow interagency partners to get “left of launch,” or in this case, “left of a hurricane.”
The ARNORTH ROC Drill focused on two category 4 and 5 hurricane scenarios with multiple landfalls and effects in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Also discussed during the rehearsal was how to overcome challenges in a post-pandemic/COVID-19 environment, like a nationwide shortage of truck drivers and a lack of rental cars and hotel rooms as restrictions ease and Americans begin to travel.

“These are unprecedented times,” said Mr. Damon Penn, FEMA Office of Response and Recovery response directorate assistant administrator, who attended the rehearsal in person. “We have to be as proactive as we can, but we have to do things smartly.”

Leadership of Air Forces North embraced this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to national resiliency while supporting the National Response Framework, and to enhance its preparedness for any crisis, to include man-made, natural, or even another pandemic.