Preparedness & Recovery

Aerial Imagery Mission Provides Unique View of Sandy Damage

The Civil Air Patrol’s photos aid damage assessments and allow evacuees to check on their homes.

by / November 14, 2012

Being able to identify areas with the biggest need following a disaster is critical. And in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is flying over the impacted states in one of its largest aerial image missions to take photographs of impacted areas.

“Aerial imagery for damage assessment, which benefits FEMA and other organizations for determining where the needs are, has really become a bread-and-butter-type mission for Civil Air Patrol,” said Julie DeBardelaben, CAP’s deputy director of public affairs. “More and more we’re being looked to for those kinds of missions because we have the capability to do it.”

Aircrews were expected to fly 60 to 70 sorties and spend 200 hours taking images of the eastern coastline, according to CAP, a nonprofit organization and an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. “They’re creating a mosaic of photographs that will be used to help study what happened and it’ll be a record,” DeBardelaben said.

According to a CAP report, each plane — G1000 Cessna 182s are being used — will have a three-member crew that flies two sorties during the day, and 700 to 750 CAP members are supporting post-hurricane missions.

As of the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 13, 151,000 images had been taken. While aerial imagery missions have become a standard mission for CAP, the response to Hurricane Sandy is different because the images are being made public through an online app. The Check Your Home website allows users to enter their address or zoom in on the map to look for images of a certain area. Each green dot on the map represents a photo taken by CAP, and clicking on a photo takes the user to an enlarged version of it. In addition to enabling evacuees to check on their home, CAP volunteers are searching through the images.
“We’ve got a lot of volunteers reviewing them for damage so that the information can be reported quickly in terms of which photographs represent a critical need,” DeBardelaben said.

DeBardelaben said FEMA is CAP’s biggest customer for this type of mission, but requests for this data also come from states and local emergency agencies. “The reason always is associated with the need to know where the damage has occurred and to know quickly so that they can respond expeditiously,” she said. Other agencies that use the information provided by the photos include the U.S. Coast Guard to locate oil spills and debris in waterways that could hinder navigation or present a public health risk.

The aerial imagery mission in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 was CAP’s largest to date, but DeBardelaben said the post-Sandy mission would also rank among the organization’s largest missions.

In addition to aerial imagery missions, CAP supports emergency services by providing search and rescue, disaster-relief operations, humanitarian missions, Air Force support and counterdrug operations.

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Emergency Management from 2008 to 2017.