CAP Flights Scouted Landing Areas, Located Refugees
During Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, hundreds of aircraft
flew missions to evacuate the stranded residents of New Orleans.
But, it wasn't just military aircraft running rescue missions in
the congested skies above the hurricane-stricken region -- members
of America's Civil Air Patrol also provided support to the agencies
"We did a lot of spotting of survivors on rooftops and relaying
that information to the emergency operations center," said CAP Col.
Rock Palermo. "We also found suitable landing zones for helicopters
as well and did aerial photography."
Colonel Palermo is a civilian pilot and a lawyer in Lake
Charles, LA, about 200 miles west of New Orleans. Immediately
following Hurricane Katrina, he was asked to volunteer his efforts
in New Orleans as part of CAP operations there.
While he did some flying during the relief efforts of Katrina,
Palermo mostly took pictures out of the back of a CAP aircraft.
Those pictures were immediately transferred to a laptop computer,
then to a phone, a satellite, and back down to an end-user.
Sometimes pictures were in the hands of local, state, or federal
agencies within minutes of the shutter release, he said. Much of
that photography was of schools and hospitals.
The CAP also took pictures for National Guard aircraft that
needed to scope out potential landing zones, flew key disaster
relief personnel around the region, and spotted stranded citizens
on rooftops so helicopters could rescue them.
CAP pilots don't fly expensive military aircraft. Typically,
they use civilian-grade passenger aircraft like Cessna 172s, 182s
and 206s. Those aircraft are suited to fly lower to the
ground. That, coupled with a CAP pilot's familiarity with their
region of responsibility, makes CAP an obvious choice to scout in
disaster areas inside the United Sates.
"When we get a call to go look at Tulane University or the Touro
Hospital, we know where those locations are," Colonel Palermo said.
"We can fly low and slow over them and take the photographs we know
are important to the end user. So, our low and slow aircraft are of
great benefit to the country and they are efficient."
"One of the most eerie feelings was the fact that as far as you
could see, these neighborhoods were underwater," Palermo added. "On
television, you see maybe one or two neighborhoods. But from 1,000
feet, you see hundreds of these neighborhoods, and you know that
all of them would have to be bulldozed because water was up to the
rooftop. And that water was staying there and it wasn't
The CAP is a corporation, funded by the federal government, with
federally purchased aircraft. It is meant to serve local
governments in times of crisis, and to serve, in certain
circumstances, as an auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force.
But it is the people of the CAP, almost entirely volunteers that
really contribute to what CAP brings to the table in any emergency
During hurricane Katrina and Rita relief and recovery efforts,
the CAP flew some 984 sorties. Ground personnel conducted more than
100 missions in support of the effort, and overall members put in
over 11,000 hours toward the effort.
"We all have skills and think our skills can be used to protect
human lives and mitigate disasters," Colonel Palermo said. "And we
use our skills in CAP to help those in need, whether it be flying
as aviators or photographers or radio communicators. All those
skills can be brought to bear as force multipliers for state, local
or federal agencies."
(Aero-News salutes Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez, Air Force Print