National Guard Continues Response in Caribbean

Washington Report

(October 3, 2017) Nearly 5,000 National Guardsmen are on duty in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which rolled through the Caribbean Sept. 20 and devastated the two islands.

Winds reached 155 mph and rainfall was measured at 30 inches. Flooding, landslides and washed-out roadways hindered travel and communications.

According to information from the National Guard Bureau, 1,519 Guardsmen are on the U.S. Virgin Islands, including 362 from the local National Guard. The rest come from 11 states. Puerto Rico is being helped by 2,701 of its own Guardsmen and 706 others from 10 states.

Federal troops helping with the response number 4,667.

Communications has been a major thrust of the Guard. Ninety-one percent of cell service was out of commission as of last week in Puerto Rico. The figure in the Virgin Islands was 63 percent.

The Guard had 12 Joint Incident Site Communications Capability systems operational on the islands last week with 10 more on the way. The JISCC uses satellite communications to provide radio, data, video and voice capabilities.

Restoring air traffic to Puerto Rico was a critical mission. Because of the loss of power and communications, all aircraft traffic had to be controlled by visual and physical spacing. Only one aircraft could arrive or leave every 10 minutes to ensure that the aircraft were safely separated. Under normal operating conditions, an airport the size of San Juan International can handle about 45 flights per hour.

The Puerto Rico Air National Guard helped re-establish local and ground-to-air communications and radar coverage of the air space.

With basic communications established, the number of flights taking place per hour, began to climb, from six per hour to 18 per hour two days after the storm, to more than 30 and finally into the upper 30s and low 40s, which is normal operations.