National Guard Readies for Busy Disaster Response Season

National Guard Readies for Busy Disaster Response Season

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 183rd Aviation Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, Hawaii Army National Guard, secure a Bambi bucket to a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during aerial fire suppression water drop operations
Photo by: U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Lianne M. Hirano

After an early bout of severe weather, the National Guard is anticipating a busy disaster response season ahead, leaders from the component said.

“The operational tempo for the National Guard is pretty [high],” Col. Larry Doane, chief of the National Guard Bureau’s current operations division, said during a May 28 discussion with reporters. “With most of the country experiencing severe weather even early in the season, it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.”

Last year, National Guard members distributed approximately 706,000 meals and cleared 1,500 miles of road as they responded to severe weather across 23 states, according to a National Guard Bureau fact sheet. The Guard also used 2.7 million gallons of retardant in response to wildfires and detected about 14,000 wildfires using the FireGuard program.

California has been investing in proactive response to wildfires for several years, including through Joint Task Force Rattlesnake, said Brig. Gen. Robert Paoletti, the California National Guard’s Joint Staff director.

“We have been very busy since about 2017 with wildfires,” he said. “Over 300 National Guardsmen are on emergency state active duty, which is our Task Force Rattlesnake. In the off-season, that task force … [does] debris clearing under the direction of CalFire, and … it augments CalFire … during the fire season.”

The Florida National Guard conducts an annual drill to ensure that it is ready for hurricane response, said Lt. Col. Blake Heidelberg, director of military support for the Florida National Guard.

“We devote a drill every year … to our hurricane response and our domestic operations training,” he said. “So, we look at it, and we plan, and we assign specific tasks to units because we know that hurricanes are not only our most likely [disaster to mitigate] but they’re also our most dangerous.”

Looking to the future of disaster response, soldiers on the ground may use artificial intelligence to speed up the aid process, Doane said.

During disaster response efforts, soldiers must parse through a large amount of data to decide where and how to best allocate resources, he said. “AI is going to become a useful tool for us to speed [up],” Doane said.

The Guard will continue to offer the nation “deeply tailored” disaster response solutions, Doane said. “These 54 states, territories and the District … provide local expertise while the National Guard Bureau, and its relationship across the federal interagency, … [provides] resources to better support deeply tailored solutions so that ... [the] response is formed by those people who are experiencing that disaster,” he said.