News: Volunteer pilots, photographers aid Alaska Shield disaster exercise
Story by Ryan Swanson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Civil Air Patrol volunteers help ensure Alaska's energy assets are safe and secure during natural disasters by taking pictures and downloading them to federal authorities for analysis.
On March 29, 2014, one such flight took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to inspect energy platforms as part of the disaster exercise Alaska Shield 2014.
After an earthquake strikes, volunteer pilots with the Civil Air Patrol immediately get up in the air and fly across the state on a damage assessment mission.
The Civil Air Patrol also trains its own photographers how to take pictures of energy production and transport facilities in the event of a natural emergency and how to send photos to federal authorities for analysis.
This day, Jeff Morton, a Civil Air Patrol mission observer, took several hundred pictures of a dozen oil rigs in Cook Inlet.
"We get different shots from many angles, and make sure they are up to the standards required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency," said Morton.
An earthquake can damage oil platforms by causing footings to slip and from tsunami activity all of which may cause the structures to ignite or cause large oil spills.
"When it comes to a bridge, the damage is not easily seen, with an oil rig, it's there or not," said Ron Preston, a mission pilot with the Alaskan Civil Air Patrol. "There are a cubic million feet in the pipeline [below the rig] at any given moment.”
One of the other oil rigs photographed on this mission was a “mono pod-style” rig with a single shaft of steel rising above the water.
"It's a pedestal table that is designed to break the ice around it," said Preston.
The plane then flew along the Aleutian Range to the Drift River Terminal on the Cook Inlet and spun around for more pictures.
Morton and Preston went on to complete their important flight by touching down at a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson airstrip. Morton then downloaded the pictures to a computer and finalized which pictures to send to FEMA.
Alaska Shield 14 is an exercise that involves state, federal, military, and local agencies, designed to test response and coordination efforts during a disaster and is modeled after the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated much of South Central Alaska.