Dobbins serves as important hub for hurricane relief efforts

By Staff Sgt. Andrew Park 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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The flightline resembled a truck stop gas station this week as 18 wheelers were lined up in several rows behind the Transportation Proficiency Center. Trucks carried cargo vital to the relief efforts currently underway in countries lying in the destructive path of Hurricane Maria.

This cargo included items needed to build a hospital from scratch – everything from the tents required to house the temporary structure to the medical equipment used to treat patients.

“Our predominant asset that we’re sending out now is called a ‘Disaster Medical Assistance Team’ basic load,’ which is a field hospital that encompasses 35 DMAT members,” said Rodney Waltersdorff, a Department of Health and Human Services logistics management specialist based out of Washington, D.C. “They’re a federalized workforce that actually gets sent out there – doctors, nurses, paramedics, emergency management technicians, safety, various different titles – and they go out and they work inside the resource that we’re sending, in a MASH field hospital in military terminology.”

As overwhelming as this task at hand can seem, several federal agencies and the Air Force Reserve are working together to make it happen. The operation takes careful orchestration to ensure all the supplies and personnel traveling from around the country reach Dobbins, which is serving as a transit hub.

“Dobbins is strategically located to serve as an installation support base for disaster relief in the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean,” said Col. Marty Hughes, 94th Mission Support Group commander.

The logisticians manage the movement of these supplies by calling on various mission support centers located in the U.S., as well as regional facilities situated both in the U.S. and overseas to provide the necessary supplies, said Waltersdorff.

At Dobbins, aerial porters from the 80th Aerial Port Squadron worked alongside logisticians with Health and Human Services to quickly offload semi-trucks parked on the flightline. These offloaded items are then palletized and prepared to load onto C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, which will fly them to their ultimate stop.

Communication after a natural disaster is also a matter of concern as the movement of patients and supplies can be a matter of life and death. The storm eliminated nearly all forms of modern communication on the island of Puerto Rico, so FEMA brought incident response vehicles, which contain various communications equipment to allow FEMA members to talk with their counterparts stateside during the relief effort. These vehicles contain video teleconference equipment, internet, radios, and other telecommunication systems required to perform their mission.

“Our main job down there initially is going to be setting up satellite communication terminals, and working off that until the infrastructure can get built back up,” said Jameson Saykaly, a FEMA mobile emergency response support telecommunications specialist. His detachment is based out of Maynard, Mass.

Dobbins will also serve as a federal coordinating center for patient reception as part of the national disaster medical system, an entity that coordinates patient movement following a natural disaster. Dobbins also received patients from the U.S. Virgin Islands who were processed and transported to metro Atlanta medical facilities.

“Dobbins has been completely fantastic in providing not only the resources we needed, such as pallets, nets and material handling equipment, but also the personnel,” Waltersdorff said.

“We’re incredibly proud of the work our Reservists are doing to support relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria; and, the partnerships with FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services and all the agencies supporting these relief efforts has been tremendous,” said Hughes.


Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Dobbins Air Reserve Base website.