As Hurricane Michael Hits, NORTHCOM Surrounds Florida Panhandle with Search and Rescue, Supplies

A USAF maintainer inspects an F-16 that was evacuated from Shaw AFB, S.C., to Barksdale AFB, La., on Oct.10 ahead of Hurricane Michael's arrival in the state. Air Force photo by SSgt. Mozer Da Cunha.

The military surrounded Florida’s panhandle with search and rescue aircrews and moved key Air Force command and control assets out of the path of Hurricane Michael as the category four storm made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

With the storm bearing down on Tyndall AFB, Fla., US Northern Command transitioned its 601st Air Operations Center away from the base to an undisclosed location in the country to ensure NORTHCOM can respond to the storm or any other airborne threat that might arise, NORTHCOM and North American Aerospace Defense Command boss USAF Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said during a Wednesday briefing. The Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center, which also is located at Tyndall, transitioned to NAS Meridian, Miss., in advance of the storm.

Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday afternoon in Mexico City, Fla., about 15 miles from Tyndall. Tyndall, Eglin AFB, Fla., and Hurlburt Field, Fla., evacuated all aircraft in advance of the storm.

The military, as of Wednesday afternoon, has 2,216 Active Duty personnel, 32 Active Duty helicopters, 240 Active Duty high-water vehicles, and 32 swift water boats on standby. USAF search and rescue airmen, HH-60Gs, and HC-130s also are on standby at Patrick AFB, Fla., to the south of the expected response zone. To the west, NORTHCOM has positioned pararescue teams and swift water boats at Gulfport, Miss. To the North, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has positioned commercial power vehicles and fuel supplies at Maxwell AFB, Ala.; Fort Bragg, N.C., and North Auxiliary Field, S.C. To the East, more helicopters are standing by at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

Additionally, there are more fuel supplies and 145 generators at Maxwell, while C-17s remain on alert, ready to launch in three hours. Aeromedical evacuation teams also are on standby. US Navy E-2 Hawkeyes are ready to provide airborne command and control if called on, but NORTHCOM does not expect them to be used.

The response mirrors much of NORTHCOM’s activity in advance of Hurricane Florence last month. During that storm response, military crews made 386 saves by air and high water trucks, O’Shaughnessy said.