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When Hurricanes Strike, Uniformed Services Respond

July 6, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Defense Department and other uniformed services provide hurricane protection for the homeland by monitoring, tracking and forecasting hurricanes. If and when a hurricane impacts a region, uniformed services personnel participate in search and rescue activities and, later, with recovery and hurricane mitigation efforts.

Detection and Monitoring

People observing weather systems on computer displays monitor a hurricane.
Operations Center
Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division personnel receive the latest update on Hurricane Douglas at the Emergency Operations Center at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, May 24, 2016.
Photo By: San Luciano Vera, DOD
VIRIN: 160524-D-RV424-612

Hurricane response is an all-hands-on-deck effort. 

Hurricane specialists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is one of the uniformed services, study satellite imagery and computer models to make hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions forecast advisories that go to emergency managers, the news media and the public.

Key data come from NOAA satellites that orbit the Earth, continuously observing storms from start to finish. Polar-orbiting satellites fly over the storm about twice a day at a lower altitude, carrying microwave instruments that reveal storm structure.

People float in a small boat.
Buoy Deployment
Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Elm return in the cutter's small boat after finishing the deployment of one of the two new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane detection buoys in the Caribbean Sea, April 17, 2007.
Photo By: James Judge, Coast Guard
VIRIN: 070417-O-D0439-001

The Space Force, in partnership with NASA, tracks these satellites. Also, U.S. Space Command and the Space Force protect these satellites from potential adversaries.

If there's a chance a cyclone will threaten land, NOAA's National Hurricane Center sends Air Force Reserve and NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft to fly through a storm to take detailed observations. NHC hurricane specialists also analyze a variety of computer models to help forecast a tropical cyclone. Each storm is different, and no one model is right every time, so the specialists’ experience with different models is crucial to making the best forecast.

When a tropical cyclone threatens the U.S. coast, NHC confers with meteorologists at NOAA's National Weather Service forecast offices closest to the path of the storm to coordinate any necessary watches and warnings.

A pilot flies a plane.
Hurricane Hunter
Air Force Maj. Stephen Pituch flies a WC-130J Hercules into Hurricane Florence during a Hurricane Hunters’ mission out of Savannah Air National Guard Base, Savannah, Ga., Sept. 13, 2018.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben
VIRIN: 180913-F-PS957-0186
A person looks out of a helicopter at flooding.
Survivor Search
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty looks for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La., Aug. 30, 2005.
Photo By: Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nyxol Cangemi
VIRIN: 050830-O-D0439-001

Hurricane Impacts

The uniformed services support the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with state and local responders when a hurricane strikes. These Defense Department efforts are coordinated by U.S. Northern Command. In the Western Pacific, including Hawaii, Guam and other U.S. territories, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command coordinates DOD efforts.

Some examples of this support:

  • The Coast Guard assists with search and rescue efforts at sea and on inland waterways. The Navy often participates with this mission, as well.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers monitors dams and levees for possible failure and takes preventive action when necessary. In the aftermath of a hurricane, they're often tasked with shoring up damaged storm defenses. For impacted communities, the Corps also has temporary emergency power, route-clearing heavy equipment and communications capabilities. 
  • The Defense Logistics Agency may deploy trailers filled with meals, cots, generators, fuel and medical equipment.
  • The Defense Health Agency — along with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (another uniformed service) — provides medical personnel and equipment as needed.
  • The National Guard uses helicopters, swift-water boats and high-water rescue vehicles for search and rescue missions and to distribute aid. Active-duty service members also assist when necessary.

Overseas Aid

Troops ford a river in a truck.
Relief Effort
Soldiers arrive at Fort Bragg, N.C., to join the ongoing joint operations conducted in support of Hurricane Florence relief effort, Sept. 19, 2018.
Photo By: Army Spc. Andrea Salgado Rivera
VIRIN: 180919-A-XH098-0097

Uniformed services personnel also assist other nations when deadly and destructive hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones strike overseas.

In turn, allies and partners have assisted Americans at home and abroad.