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Private Pilots Help Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort

Private Pilots Help Hurricane Harvey Relief EffortWe’ve all seen the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the latest, Maria. Pilots have unique skill sets and resources, and are in a special position to assist when disaster hits. Read how small aircraft pilots helped with the relief effort in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, courtesy of USA Today.

Pilot Jim Rice could have spent his Labor Day weekend relaxing and visiting family in San Antonio, but instead, he spent it in his four-seat, single-engine Mooney prop plane flying supplies such as diapers, bottled water, Gatorade, toilet paper, dog food and boxes of Girl Scout cookies 280 miles to Orange, Texas for people enduring Hurricane Harvey. Rice flew nine flights in and out of the flood-ravaged areas in three days.

Rice is part of a small and selfless fleet of citizen pilots and private plane owners who played a key role in the massive Hurricane Harvey relief effort of getting supplies into Houston, Orange, Beaumont and other flood-damaged areas where roads were impassable.

Small aircraft more agile

While the U.S. military, FEMA and organizations such as the Red Cross also got supplies and workers into areas cut off from the rest of the world by Harvey’s record-breaking floods, but private pilots and aircraft were able to mobilize quicker than many government or NGOs and often beat the military to disaster areas with much-needed supplies.

Though the military could drop more supplies in a single shipment aboard a C-130 than the smaller planes could bring in an entire afternoon, it is the speed and agility of small aircraft and their pilots that can make all the difference in an urgent, emergency situation.

The organization behind this effort is PALS Sky Hope Disaster Relief Program, a Georgetown, Texas nonprofit whose mission is to use a network of business aviation professionals to solve problems during emergencies and urgent situations.

With large swaths of his county cut off from the rest of Texas by strangling floods, Orange County Commissioner John Gothia watched in awe as Cessna after Cessna landed at the small Orange County Airport in West Orange. The small planes got there well before the military did and dropped off much-needed cases of water, food and medicine.

As of the morning of Sunday, August 27th, the organization had dispatched about 40 planes from Georgetown and another 30 from other parts of the country. The pilots donated more than just their time; private aviators have donated more than $1 million in fuel, maintenance and pilot time, according to a Sky Hope Network representative.

Teams of the Texas National Guard, Red Cross workers and volunteers worked steadily to offload supplies from the planes and stacked them onto pallets inside the airport’s only hangar. Later National Guard and other trucks took the supplies to one of the four distribution centers around town.   

Telecom company drone teams also assisted

Harvey disrupted at least 17 emergency call centers and 320 cellular sites, and caused outages for more than 148,000 Internet, TV and phone customers, according to the Federal Communications Commission. It left many people unable to reach out for help or get in touch with family and friends to say they were alive.

To speed up the process of getting everyone back online, telecom companies, including AT&T and Verizon, used their drones to help with recovery efforts.

AT&T says it has been successfully using drones to help get its systems back up around Houston and other areas affected by Harvey, keeping drones just outside the area where Harvey was expected to hit so they could deploy them quickly.

The drone can get pictures of a cell tower, allowing the repair team to diagnose issues quicker, and make repairs faster.

Find out more about and connect with the Sky Hope Disaster Relief Program on their Facebook page.

Source: USA Today

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