Disaster Response By Seaplane – A Guest Article By Amy Page
A powerful earthquake threatens to rock, drown and devastate the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years. A nurse in Washington state is preparing for the inevitable disaster through an airborne safety net that could save hundreds of lives.
The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault running from northern Vancouver to northern California, is due for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, scientists say, including analyses by Oregon State University quake expert Chris Goldfinger. It’s been dubbed “the big one” by many, and threatens the coast of three states and a corner of Canada.
Research predicts the destruction of major roads and runways up and down the West Coast, cutting off help and resources from its victims, who may wait weeks for help. That’s not good enough for Sky Terry, a home health care nurse who came up with a rescue route using seaplanes and volunteer pilots.
Disaster Airlift Response Team: Float Response Wing
In a disaster that demolishes normal means of travel, aircraft can go where others can’t and provide crucial assistance. Terry’s plan is a division of the Disaster Airlift Response Plan, a California volunteer airlift resource for communities and emergency responders.
The plan, called the Disaster Airlift Response Team Float Response Wing, is a system that responds to emergencies where transportation infrastructure is damaged or destroyed using floats, or seaplanes. If roads and airports are destroyed in the event of a major earthquake, there would be no way to transport help to affected areas, Terry said. The plan is to utilize water resources like lakes, rivers and beaches, which are optimal for seaplanes.
Terry’s idea began after Hurricane Katrina. He was inspired by the assistance of trained, volunteer pilots after Hurricane Katrina and the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake – a 1989 quake in California – which destroyed major roads and cut off Watsonville and Santa Cruz from assistance by land.
The DART Float Response Wing originally began as the Emergency Seaplane Response plan, and grew with the involvement of two national volunteer pilot groups: the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps and the Air Care Alliance. The Emergency Volunteer Air Corps organizes volunteer groups to help in major disasters. It coordinates and promotes emergency response among general aviation pilots. The Air Care Alliance is an umbrella organization for more than 80 charitable pilot groups. Its volunteers fly patients in need, relocate wildlife and many other humanitarian-oriented missions.
How it Works
The plan installs people within the state as a living earthquake alert system, Terry said. In the event of a quake, they would text the heads of the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps and the Air Care Alliance, who activate their national groups of volunteer pilots to transport the injured and deliver supplies.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Anywhere there’s a lake, a river, a beach, a sound – all it needs is a slope and a beach without a huge mess of boulders and you have an area where a float can come in and beach, and then load back up and fly out,” Sky Terry said.[/perfectpullquote]
After landing, a trained, volunteer ground team would handle the aircraft and load or unload supplies or patients. Terry uses photographs, video and hands-on training to teach people who have never seen a seaplane before to work around one safely and successfully. From Seabees to Cessnas, he shows people how to work around propellers, wheels-up protocols for spotters, what docks are best for landing planes in and more.
“We realized that what really made it work well and safely was the ground support,” Terry said. “It’s the community members directly from the communities who would utilize the resource that make it safe and feasible.” The idea follows what was done after Loma Prieta’s quake. Eighty volunteer aircraft delivered over 500,000 pounds in supplies over three to four days.
“I don’t see why we can’t easily pull more than half a million pounds in supplies,” Terry said. The DART Float Response Wing and WCGARP is looking to gather well over 100 to 200 aircraft between Idaho, Washington and Oregon working collaboratively, coherently and pre-planned.
Cooperation with Kenmore Air and California
Saving lives is an enormous part of Terry’s life. He served five years in the army as a combat life saver, worked 14 years in search and rescue between Snohomish and Pierce counties and has been a licensed practical nurse for the past two years. He’s also stopped to help at several car accidents.
“I’ve had some pretty injured people in my hands and I’ve been the one waiting for help to arrive,” Terry said. At one point, he had to CPR a non-responsive individual. “That has never left my memory. Those experiences have always been a core part of why I do what I do.”
Wanting to consult with professionals, Terry first approached Kenmore Air in Washington. They have since become heavily involved.
“This never would have existed without Kenmore Air’s direct involvement,” Terry said. “Not just lending their aircraft, but their input and direction to what you can and can’t do with float planes.”
Kenmore Air’s chief pilot Chuck Perry did similar work in Alaska. He often flew heart attack victims, loggers after chainsaw accidents and mothers in labor – one of which came close to giving birth on his plane. “In southeast Alaska, we do a lot of medevac just by virtue of the fact that all the communities are scattered and there are no roads,” Perry said. “There’s no quick way to get somebody to medical care.”
Perry feels that Terry’s idea is a good idea providing a good service. Kenmore Air has lent Terry its resources through planes, pilots and knowledge and more. “We think Sky has a good idea,” he said. Though he feels there are a lot of challenges that come with it, he also feels it’s Kenmore Air’s obligation to help. “If we didn’t support it, who would?“
The South County Airport Pilot Association’s DARP is co-helmed by Paul Marshall and works closely with Terry. Some members of SCAPA DARP’s board of directors participated in the Watsonville airlift that occurred in the days following Loma Prieta. Marshall and Terry connected through the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps. Later, Terry joined a DARP exercise that relayed donated food by plane. His offshoot of the exercise started in Washington and helped donate a collective 380 pounds of food to St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy.
“On a very small scale, we were modeling what we might be doing on a large scale in a real disaster,” Marshall said.
It’s been difficult getting people to see the value of his idea. Within the last six months, however, Terry is seeing changes. More and more communities and emergency resources are reaching out to him and realizing the importance and preparing for disasters, he said.
Clallam county in Washington has developed their first disaster response team in the state. Similar teams are also developing in Oregon. In the future, Terry would like to see multiple DARTs develop within multiple counties, and would also like to see existing DARTs develop further.
“It is humbling and makes me a bit nervous as to how much all these people put such faith in me,” Terry said in an email. “I’m not a pilot, not normally disaster-trained, just worked it out by listening to a lot who have done the real thing and just by listening to my instincts.”
How to get involved?
For pilots and aircraft owners that want to get involved, Terry suggests creating your own DART. But a DART isn’t made of just pilots. It’s also key to develop relationships with your local community, Terry said. Reach out to your local airports, talk to emergency medical resources with your county, and establish leadership positions and ground support.
“[There’s] still more work to do, but the crucial part is the lines of communication now exist and that cuts response time and means lives saved,” Terry said in an email to all involved. “Someday people will look up and you and your fellow pilots are going to be their miracle and hope.”
Amy Page is a 26-year-old senior at Western Washington University. As a journalism major with a focus on photography and news design, Amy loves to photograph interesting people and places. See her work at amympage.wordpress.com!