Civil Air Patrol's new national commander today asked his volunteer members in Florida to stay safe and stand ready to respond after Hurricane Irma makes landfall on the peninsula, predicted early Sunday.
Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, who assumed command of the 58,000-member volunteer civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 2, said he is proud of how his organization was handling the challenges of providing disaster relief not only for Irma, but also Hurricane Harvey's aftermath.
"Back-to-back natural disasters, first Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma, test all of us," Smith said. "But they also provide opportunities for CAP members to show their mettle."
As of Friday, CAP had delivered more than 300,000 aerial images over Texas and Louisiana in Harvey’s wake, with more than 30 CAP planes in service and the support of members from 34 wings, Smith said.
Today, Puerto Rico Wing aircrews were in the air for a second day to support relief efforts in the Caribbean after Irma’s passage.
In Puerto Rico, hit by Irma on Wednesday, members spent today taking aerial photos of water and wind damage, as well as transporting relief and recovery officials to the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Col. Barry Melton, Southeast Region commander. The missions were tasked by the 1st Air Force and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Smith expressed confidence that CAP members are poised to respond when requested on the mainland.
"We stand ready to serve our communities, states and nation," Smith said.
Melton echoed Smith, saying Florida Wing members – no strangers to hurricane response – are prepared.
"The wing has been systematically spooling up its response readiness for the last two weeks," he said.
That includes moving aircraft and crews from other units in the Southeast Region, Melton said. His command includes Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Col. Luis Garcia, Florida Wing commander, said his units are at top readiness, known as HURCON 1. He said the wing will likely set up initial incident command posts in Lakeland and Tallahassee once conditions improve.