Bookmark and Share

194th IS provides Patriot North with the big picture

Airmen from the 194th Intelligence Squadron participated in exercise Patriot North centered around Volk Field, Wisconsin July 14-18. 22 Airmen participated in the exercise. Some of them were on site in Wisconsin and some at home station on Camp Murray, Washington.

The annual natural disaster response exercise is similar to Washington State’s version, Cascadia Rising, but tailored to the threats the Midwest faces like flooding and tornados.

“We have 14 people forward deployed to Volk Field providing incident awareness and assessment. They provided situational awareness for the exercise,” said Master Sgt. Brenden Caldwell, 194th IS Unclassified Processing Assessment and Dissemination team lead. “We also have a team of eight here at Camp Murray providing reach-back support for that forward deployed team. When they get over tasked we pick up some of their work load.”

The IS analysts help create an overall picture of a disaster area by combining imagery input from multiple sources and creating a product that creates a better understanding of the situation for responding personnel.

“We have a number of different assets available to us. There is a drone from the North Dakota Air National Guard that can take photos of different areas like bridges and damns. The Wisconsin Army National Guard is flying a UH-72 Lakota helicopter, and the Civil Air Patrol is taking pictures from a Cessna airplane,” said Caldwell. “We leverage those assets to provide imagery products to first responders, incident commanders and joint force headquarters to give them better situational
awareness of what’s going on, on the ground.”

Thankfully the disaster scenario is notional and there is no damage to asses, but to train the team uses information from agencies like the Army Corps of Engineer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to predict how flooding would affect certain areas and what infrastructure would be at risk.

“We identified all the major hospitals in central Wisconsin, what their capacity is and what they are able to take in the event of a triage situation,” said Caldwell. “We have identified hazardous materials sites in the area that could potentially be damaged. Facilities like chemical factories, petroleum refineries and water treatment facilities.”

In a real world scenario they would be looking for what critical assets are damaged and what ones are still operational. This allows the command teams on scene to know what resources they have available to them.

“A lot of what we do is for the incident commander on site. They will look at what their objectives are and what imagery will support that,” said 2nd Lt. Catherine Pearce, 194th Officer in Charge of UPAD operations for the exercise. “It can be big things like hospitals for long term planning all the way to dynamic short notice tasks like search and rescue.”

Using input from multiple agencies to create a big overall picture of the area the 194th team can determine what routes are safest and quickest for rescue personnel to enter or exit an area.

“During hurricane Michael, last year, we were able to provide near real time route analyst to first responders who were trying to get into denied areas,” said Caldwell. 

What allows the IS members to create such detailed site pictures is the ability of multiple agencies working together to collect and process data. Normally an intelligence unit operates in a classified environment on classified systems for understandable reasons, but for domestic response situations they utilize a different type of system called Domestic Operations Awareness and Assessment Response Tool Suite.

“DART is web based common operating picture tool,” said Pearce. “The good thing about it is that the access to it is not restricted. CAP, FEMA, State agencies, private agencies like Red Cross, all the stake holders can access it. It allows everyone working on the incident to work together in a common space and share information regardless of their access to government and DoD systems to create a common operating picture.”

The 194th IS a unique unit with unique skill sets that can be used for many different applications and hold everything they do to a high standard.

“There’s not a lot of intelligence units that do the work we do. It’s a highly specialized filed within the intel community and it’s our bread and butter,” said Caldwell. “Our expectation for the quality of an intelligence product provided to a war fighter is very high, because accuracy can be the difference between life and death. We bring that same level of seriousness and quality to a domestic operations scenario.”

Disaster response is a difficult task and a lot of times unpredictable. Being able to overcome complex challenges that arise is critical to accomplishing to mission.

“Our analyst have been in there cranking out products all week and if you weren’t here you wouldn’t know the challenges they went through to get those products out in a timely manner,” said Pearce. “They have done a fantastic job. The best thing we learned this week is the flexibility of the team. We have had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but because of the flexibility, resiliency and technical expertise of the analyst they have been able to roll with the punches, work together and keep the product flow at
a great level.”

Staying trained on their mission is important for not only the 194th IS but also for Washington State. The state has a regular threat from forest fires, which the 194th stands ready to support, but the state does not face an annual natural disaster presence like hurricanes in the South and East Coast or tornados and flooding the Midwest. This doesn’t meant that the state is free and clear from potential major disasters.

“The big takeaway from this exercise for us is how we were able to adapt and overcome. It is critical to have the skills to quickly move forward in the face adversity. That’s been the best part about this, looking at how to troubleshoot, brain storm and find a solution,” said Pearce. “Because it’s very unlikely in a disaster scenario facing Washington that we will have everything a hundred percent and all our tools and resources in place. The worst natural disasters we would face here are going to be no notice.”