Public Service

Digital Databases Important Tools in Massive Response to Hurricane Harvey

By S.L. Fuller | August 31, 2017

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from E Company, 1-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion, prepare to refuel an Army Reserve UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter support local rescue operations after Hurricane Harvey, Conroe, Texas, August 29, 2017. U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Capt. Loyal Auterson

U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from E Company, 1-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion, prepare to refuel an Army Reserve Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk to support local rescue operations after Hurricane Harvey, Conroe, Texas, Aug. 29. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Reserve

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Wednesday that more than 12,400 employees from more than 17 federal departments and agencies are working together in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Civil entities have also been providing ongoing aid from before Hurricane Harvey began its tear across southern Texas to now, as “Tropical Depression Harvey” causes rampant flooding in both Texas and Louisiana. With dozens of helicopters flying in from all over the country — some from other parts of the world — and helipads that have been compromised by the weather, information sharing has been a logistical key to successful operations.

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“We have seen a significant increase in membership since the rescue efforts have begun,” LZControl’s Jonathan Godfrey told R&WI. “[That includes] Coast Guard, FEMA contractors, private operators and more.”

LZControl is a landing zone database, with information about helispots all over the world. It’s a free mobile app and web app that provides contact information, coordinates, IFR information, weather and more. The company noted that this kind of helipad information would traditionally be recorded on paper. But LZControl was created for air ambulance operations and allows operators to upload the information to the app on the go in urgent circumstances. The company said that during Hurricane Harvey, some helipads were being closed or restricted while other temporary landing zones were being created. LZControl’s database is a way to quickly share that information.

“An increase of 70% individual users have logged on from various operators in Texas alone. This does not include the usage of the mobile app,” Godfrey said of LZControl. “This is the first time that there has been a shared way that public service, private operators and military have a free shared platform to communicate about landing zones.”

Helicopter Association International (HAI) has also offered its emergency response database to aid in the hurricane relief efforts. Instead of landing zones, this database contains helicopter companies that are able to provide additional support upon request.

"All they need to do is ask. We're ready to work with FEMA and offices in Texas to support whatever they might require after the storm," said HAI President and CEO Matt Zuccaro. "Simply, we're ready to help whenever and wherever helicopters are needed."

One of those helicopter companies is multi-service provider CHI Aviation. HAI confirmed that CHI Aviation sent a Sikorsky S-61 to Texas, and the operator said it also sent crew. The aircraft was sent to support area hospitals CHI is operating under Air Methods’ Part 135 certificate for these operations.

“Given our experience with such complex missions, including our critical role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we anticipated this need and responded almost immediately after being called for assistance,” said Patrick Pilolla, CHI Aviation’s director of business development.

The company said that during the preparation briefing, it was told that 7,000 to 8,000 patients and staff were dependent on CHI Aviation’s assistance.

Also among civilian operators sending resources is Air Evac Lifeteam. The company said Monday it had deployed 14 aircraft and crews after a request from FEMA to provide critical care transport. Air Evac Lifeteam said it has 135 bases in 15 states. Resources from six states were sent to provide support in the hurricane-affected areas.

“All requests for patient transports will come from FEMA,” Joe Grygiel, senior director of base operations for Air Evac Lifeteam, said in Monday’s announcement. “We expect our crews to be actively deployed for five to seven days.”

U.S. military and other agencies have been flying a variety of operations in the wake of the hurricane as well. Having been steadily conducting search and rescue missions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations Thursday rescued some blood. The agency said that it sent a Bell Helicopter UH-1 to assist a stranded truck west of Houston that was transporting cases of donated blood. Agents worked with local law enforcement to load the cases of blood onto the helicopter, and they were then transported to a blood bank in downtown Houston.

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard have been providing aid from the air as well. Virginia sent seven National Guard helicopters to Texas. After receiving a request from Texas, South Carolina deployed its Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Teams. Each crew consists of a Sikorsky Black Hawk, with four soldiers from the state’s National Guard, according to the South Carolina governor’s office. Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, was designated a FEMA Incident Support Base and recently hosted guardsmen from New York, according to several news outlets. More than 100 airmen from the 136th Rescue Wing and three Sikorsky HH-60s reportedly landed at Fort Hood.

According to ABC News, Hurricane Harvey has caused 20 trillion gallons of rain to fall on the Houston area. The report also said that associated damages will cost $125 billion. It is estimated that 13 million people have been directly affected by the storm, as it is forecasted to head from Texas and Louisiana to Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. According to the report, FEMA said federal forces have rescued 10,000 people so far, and civilians have rescued many more. ABC News said 24,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to assist in relief efforts. And they continue to work as recovery operations have just begun.

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