Air Force ready to implement disaster teams

Units can respond to calls for aid within 24 hours

By LISA BURGESS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 11, 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — By month’s end, the Air Force will have a self-sufficient team of medical and support specialists ready to help in natural disasters, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. George “Peach” Taylor, Air Force surgeon general.

The 224-airman teams will be equipped with the skills and material to set up a 25-bed hospital, complete with its own water, power and mortuary.

In addition to 91 medical experts, there will be 133 experts in everything from vehicle maintenance to security, Taylor told reporters during a Thursday interview at the Pentagon.

Each team will have the resources to handle basic medical care for 5,000 to 6,500 people.

The entire package, including equipment and personnel, “can fit on 10 or 11 C-17s,” Taylor said, and will be “wheels up” within 24 hours of notification.

The team is an expansion of a “medical rapid response force” put together after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Taylor said.

The team included personnel to staff a 25-bed hospital and aeromedical evacuation assets, and was first activated last August when it was deployed to New Orleans International Airport to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“That actually worked quite well,” Taylor said. “But from the Air Force perspective, it wasn’t the whole team, it was just the medics. Where were the security forces, where were [team members] going to live, what was the communication like?”

After reviewing the Katrina experience, he said, “We’ve been working really hard on an integrated humanitarian relief package.”

The package still revolves around a hospital, “but it will have base operating support around it — the feeding, the housing, the command and control, the communications, the security in one package,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he briefed the concept to the Secretary of the Air Force last week and got the green light to go on to the next step: presenting the idea to the Pentagon’s combatant commanders and letting them know the package will be available for request by the end of June.

Taylor said he expects the Pentagon’s Northern Command to be particularly interested in the team for response to domestic disasters, such as hurricanes.

But global commands, such as Pacific Command, also can ask for the package in response to tsunamis, earthquakes or volcano eruptions, he said.

“In a matter of hours, not days, we can have this kind of capability on the ground,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he plans to talk with all of the combatant commanders about the package’s readiness sometime this week.

The humanitarian medical deployment package, though smaller in scale, is similar in concept to the Air Expeditionary Forces, which the Air Force reorganized itself around in 1999, Taylor said.

Like AEFs, the emergency medical deployment groups will be made up of airmen and assets from throughout the Air Force, and will have “on-call” periods, Taylor said.

In fact, the Air Force will use the AEF rotation to source its personnel for the medical package, tapping personnel who are in either the training or ramp-up to deployment portions of the cycle, Taylor said.

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