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North Carolina Wing Practices How It Would Assist State and Communities During A Major East Coast Power Outage

Team Prepares to Head Out
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Team prepares to head out: 2dLt Derk Beutler (ground team leader); C/CMSgt Lakey; C/2dLt Beutler; C/Amn Andreou; Cadet Cates; C/SrA Houston; Cadet Jenkins; C/A1C Gluck Photo taken by Senior Member Sue Beutler, Squadron PAO (click image to view full size)
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The North Carolina Wing, Civil Air Patrol, Auxiliary of the United States Air Force, simulated a response to assist State and Federal agencies during a power outage that affected the eastern third of the United States and eastern portion of Canada.  This two-day exercise started on Friday, January 15th and ended on Saturday, January 16, 2016.  Members worked several missing person searches and two simulated missing aircraft searches.  The exercise simulated actual events in the past including an outage several years ago affecting parts of the east coast and Canada and after Katrina hit the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.  The purpose of the simulated exercises was to validate the capabilities within the Wing based on the training members participate in on a monthly basis. 

One of the requirements during this exercise scenario was the requirement that in order to participate, the member had to be able to use electricity powered by a generator, car, battery or other power source.  Members could not use their home, office or squadron buildings electricity.  For this exercise, Wing Headquarters in Burlington, NC and an alternate Incident Command Post in Raleigh, NC were made inoperable.  This forced most Incident Command personnel to operate from their homes or other locations using alternate power sources.  The CAP internal alerting system was also not operational for the exercise providing the members the opportunity to exercise how the low tech phone tree system worked.  This required everyone to be notified by phone calls from activation and availability notification to briefing and debriefing sorties.

The simulations included two missing aircraft searches with an aircraft that was flying from Winchester, VA to Monroe, NC Friday night.  The second aircraft was flying from Bermuda to Wilmington when the power went out and diverted from Wilmington to Elizabeth City to land at an airport with lights.  Aircrews conducted electronic searches based on a possible distress beacon and visual searches.  While there were missing aircraft searches going on, CAP was also tasked with conducting aerial photography missions of critical infrastructure across the state.  This capability allowed both state and federal agencies to see what kind of damage may have occurred and how it is impacting the communities it is in.  On top of all of that, two aircrews were also providing airborne repeaters with one covering the western part of the state and the other one covering the eastern part of the state.

Civil Air Patrol also assisted in six simulated missing person searches across the state.  The missing person searches were of residents who became confused during the power outage and left their senior citizen communities. The searches occurred in Louisburg, Winston-Salem, Ashville, Fayetteville and Gastonia/Shelby areas.

During the exercise, the South Carolina Wing requested “real world” assistance for an ELT in South Carolina knowing that a CAP aircraft from Asheville had just departed from the Asheville airport.  They were contacted in the air and retasked to assist the South Carolina Wing.  The ELT was eventually found by the South Carolina Wing at the Greenville Downtown Airport.

A total of 167 personnel participated in this exercise across the state of North Carolina.  The Incident Commander for the exercise was Maj. Dennis Bissell.  The personnel utilized ten corporate aircraft and eight corporate vehicles during this exercise.  The fast paced nature of this exercise consisted of missing aircraft, missing people, damage assessment survey and communications capabilities during a typical natural disaster that this exercise simulated.  Just like a real event, tasking was simulated as would be assigned to CAP by the NC Emergency Operations Center and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.  Ten aircrews flew 14 sorties involving missing aircraft searches and aerial photography reconnaissance missions capturing images of critical infrastructure that federal, state and local agencies would require for damage assessment during actual emergencies.  Ground teams conducted thirteen sorties consisting of one UDF mission and Emergency Locator Transmitter searches typical of missing aircraft and six missing person searches typical of a silver alert.

Maj. Bissell, the incident commander commented, “This overall was a good test under stressful conditions and significant tasking assigned in a relatively short timeline on how a statewide response can be coordinated.  We confirmed that our monthly air and ground training prepared us to perform in an efficient manner with an exercise that simulated a possible real world event.  He added that “without electrical power for the exercise, we were able to demonstrate the reliability of our own radio network.  The exercise boosted the confidence levels in our ability to support the community in the event of a real world event.”

Maj. John May, NC Wing Director of Emergency Services who wrote the exercise added “This mission tested the capabilities of the North Carolina Wing Civil Air Patrol members and the different skill sets that CAP members offer.  The ability of CAP to meet tasking requirements in the air and on the ground offers a tremendous value to the state, communities and citizens of North Carolina.”

The Civil Air Patrol is the all-volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force and part of the Air Force’s Total Force.  In North Carolina, they fall under Crime Control and Public Safety.  The Emergency Services program includes 13 single engine Cessna aircraft with direction finding equipment used to locate missing aircraft and hikers, digital photography equipment for natural disaster assessments, airborne repeater equipment to support a variety of communications needs and the ability to transport personnel and equipment to disasters as needed.  Ground capabilities include search and rescue teams, communication platforms and the ability to set up and manage distribution centers for relief supplies.