California Airmen provide communication support to wildfire evacuees
By Senior Airman Crystal Housman, California National Guard Public Affairs
/ Published October 18, 2017
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. --
Airmen from the California National Guard continue to provide cell phone and internet support to people who fled their homes last week as wildfires raged through California’s wine country.
The 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley sent four Airmen and its Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) to Napa Valley College in Napa, late Tuesday, Oct. 10, where an evacuation center was established Monday, Oct. 9, after the Tubbs Fire threatened homes in the Calistoga area.
The MEOC is a rapidly deployable, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Type 2 communications trailer that can provide customers with ground-to-ground and air-to-ground communications support. It also features a self-contained wireless network and satellite uplink capabilities.
With local cell phone towers down and internet access limited by the fires, many evacuees had no way to reach family members or get new information about the fires.
By early Wednesday morning, the MEOC and its staff of emergency management and communications Airmen, established a wireless internet network and set up a tactical cell phone tower enabling evacuees to make phone calls and contact loved ones.
The MEOC team is also providing up to date fire maps and incident information along with full motion video being streamed into the trailer. More than 300 people have come into the MEOC seeking information since the Airmen arrived.
“A lot of these people are wondering if their house is burned to the ground or not, and we’re giving those people relief,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Crumpton, MEOC team leader and emergency manager.
“We were able to type in their address and see how close they were to the fire line,” said Staff Sgt. Hideyoshi Izumi, who serves as a communications operator for the MEOC.
Izumi, who is working the overnight shift while the MEOC provides around-the-clock services to evacuees, said about 20 people stop by for updated information each night.
“People can’t sleep,” Izumi said. “They want to know if their home is gone.”
Sometimes the news isn’t good.
“These people are taking bad news like a champ. They’re told some pretty rough stuff,” Crumpton said. “I get the feeling they are hopeful and tough people.”
About 1,200 people from the Calistoga, Napa, and Lake Berryessa communities have come through the shelter, American Red Cross officials said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel and insurance representatives are also using the MEOC to access real time fire maps and data to further their work.
Red Cross officials plan to keep the college evacuation site open until 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 17.
The California National Guard activated Oct. 10 in support of civil authorities battling a series of wildfires that started Oct. 9. Soldiers and Airmen are providing aerial, ground and infrastructure support during the response and recovery effort.