Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Emergency response team takes flight: Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI), Santa Cruz County, California

WATSONVILLE — Disaster was on the minds of dozens of volunteers at Watsonville Municipal Airport on Saturday.

While it was a calm, clear spring day, the pilots and ground crew were practicing how they will handle the next big earthquake, flood or other calamity to befall the county.

The group – the Watsonville Emergency Airlift Command Team (WEACT) – is a team of 60 or so volunteers that was formed in 2011. 

The organization is tasked with serving as what could be the only way in or out of the county, should the roads be closed after a disaster.

The group meets monthly to discuss protocol and once a year for a realistic drill.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake effectively brought Santa Cruz County to its knees, destroying homes, toppling buildings and blocking access in and out via the major roads.

In the wake of the temblor, Watsonville Municipal Airport took on a new importance as hundreds of volunteer pilots flew people and supplies in and out of the county.

What would have been an ideal focal point for the county’s disaster response efforts, however, was somewhat muddled because it lacked a dedicated coordinator.

That was the catalyst for the creation of WEACT, a group of volunteers that can mobilize at a moment’s notice during a disaster to direct air traffic, coordinate pilots and keep track of where they are needed.

The group is Watsonville’s version of a Disaster Airlift Response Team, which most airports have.

“We were trying to provide some organization,” said WEACT coordinator Marjorie Bachman. “We’re the only airport in the county. When the roads are closed, when there is a flood or earthquake, WEACT is going to be able to serve the community.”

This can include sending a pilot up to get a bird’s eye view of roads or levee damage, take a surgeon to a trauma center, pick up a rescue dog or retrieve emergency supplies.

Pilot Nick Shmel flew from Half Moon Bay to participate in the drill.

“I feel like it’s a good thing to do,” he said. “If [a big earthquake] ever happens again, I can come here and do some good.”

Pilot Ryan Ramirez, who was coordinating ground operations for the drill, said pilots are always looking for ways to utilize their hard-won skills.

“What better way to serve the community,” he said.

While WEACT was the brainchild of Watsonville Airport Manager Rayvon Williams, he was quick to give credit to the volunteers.

“It was an idea that started in 2011, and they are making it real,” he said.

Original article can be found here:   https://register-pajaronian.com

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