Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)
Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season (3 of 4)

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: June 24, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – This has been a busy year for the Lone Star State with the recent record-breaking floods. Texas Guardsmen conducted more than 135 missions, rescuing more than 900 people and 310 pets May 29-June 12, 2016, after severe weather caused flooding to large portions of the region.

But the job doesn’t stop there. As Texas rolls into Hurricane season, the Guardsman must be trained and ready to react to emergency disasters when the state calls upon them.

“You have to be ready for whatever is coming at you, if you don’t entertain the training aspect of it,” said Matthew Geller, Task Force 1 Helicopter Search and Rescue Technician, “you’re looking at the risk being great, and you can’t sacrifice that much.”

This year, the Texas Military Department and first responders conducted a state-level hurricane preparedness exercise across various Texas cities, June 2-9, 2016. This is the third-annual exercise for Guardsman, but the first one to include outside civil agencies.

“Two years ago we started with just the Army and just our internal components in the Air Operation Center, said Shawna Wood, air operation superintendent at Camp Mabry. “Last year we started involving our interagencies such as, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Incident Awareness Association and outside agencies, the Air Force, and then this year the big step was Texas Department Emergency Management.”

Texas Military Department set up an Air Operation Center headquartered in Camp Mabry, Austin to coordinate the moving parts throughout the exercise along with over 11 state and local civil agencies.

“The Air Operation Center is a multi-agency air coordination center, and is hosted and managed by the Texas Military Department under the authority of the State Operation Center,” said Col. Tom Suelzer, director of operation for the Texas Air National Guard, and for the state he serves as the Air Operation Center director. “So when there is a state level or higher response, we’re tasked by the state to set up the Air Operation Center to help develop an air operation support strategy.”

The scenario was based on a fictitious Category 5 Hurricane “Tejas” which struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley, causing 1.1 million people to evacuate. In turn, Austin experienced widespread flooding due to the weather patterns.

Nearly 500 service members from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, and Texas State Guard participated in the state-level exercise. 

Several even acted as role players for the medevac piece of the exercise. 
“For the past two years we’ve done search and rescue and on ground we’ve done aeromedical preparation,” said Wood. “But this was the first time we’ve actually moved the patients so this is a stepping-stone for what we’ve done the last couple years.” 

Having these types of trainings help Texan guardsmen and first responders stay ready for natural disasters.

“It’s been eight years since we’ve had any kind of major hurricane activity and a lot of key leaders up and down our change of command have changed, said Wood. “Our partnership with Texas Division of Emergency Management is very important so it’s building those relationships so that when the time comes we can put them into play.”

This is 3 of 4 Texas Hurricane Preparedness.