DoD Improves Disaster Assessment Capabilities
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006 It's imperative to provide aerial reconnaissance assets during natural disasters and other emergencies so first responders can quickly determine the extent of damage and ascertain requirements of the relief effort, a top DoD official said at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing here.
"We're talking about wide-area surveillance for damage assessment and then the ability, through interoperable communications, to disseminate what we collect to all of the first responders -- emergency management personnel, military authorities -- who need to be aware of the damage so they can begin responding to it," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, told members of the SASC's emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.
Because of the lack of aerial damage assessment and dependable communications tools, authorities relied on sometimes-inaccurate media reports to obtain early impressions of Hurricane Katrina's impact in the affected region, McHale said March 10.
However, an aerial observation package was in place by the time Hurricane Rita arrived on the Texas-Louisiana coasts on Sept. 24. "If Rita had produced catastrophic damage, we would not have been reliant on media reports to scope and assess that damage," McHale said.
Now is the time to prepare for the next hurricane season, which runs from June until the end of November, Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at the hearing.
"We should start seeing hurricanes as early as June. They don't always wait until the fall. So, we have to be ready," Blum said.