Oklahoma Airmen spin-up for emergency response during tornado season

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kasey Phipps
  • 137th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Allergies, rain, renewal ... for Oklahomans, native or transplanted, spring often brings memories of not just the usual April showers and May flowers, but also blaring sirens, violent storms and hail wrapped tornadoes.

This spring is no different. As thermometers steadily rise, so too does the likelihood of tornadoes and with it, the chances that Airmen from the 137th Air Refueling Wing will be activated.

"Tornadoes and flooding are the events that typically activate the largest number and array of Oklahoma National Guard forces," said Army Master Sgt. Charles McBride, the Oklahoma National Guard Joint Operations Center noncommissioned officer in charge.

National Guard forces were called upon 286 times and logged more than 547,100 man-days responding to emergencies in the U.S. last year, some of those emergencies included the 111 tornadoes in Oklahoma in 2015, 83 of which occurred in the month of May alone.

The Joint Operations Center (JOC), located at Joint Force Headquarters in Oklahoma City, is in charge of setting those man-days for Oklahoman Guardsmen, interpreting the needs of Oklahoma Emergency Management into Joint Operations Center or unit-level activations.

"A JOC activation is dependent upon Oklahoma Emergency Management (OEM) either requesting the OKNG send Liaison Officers (LNO) to the State EOC in anticipation of a major event or the processing of a Request for Assistance (RFA) for the OKNG," said McBride. "JOC activation will translate into unit-level activations when specific RFAs are received for military support.

Here at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, the 137th Command Post is sent a warning order from the JOC describing the current situation, mission and possible support needs.

"It's basically a 'heads up' so that we can get our equipment and personnel ready and on standby," said Master Sgt. Barbara Baldwin, 137 CP Superintendent. "At that time, we will run our checklist and notify wing leadership and any players from our base."

Frequently requested players from WRANGB include the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron, 205th Engineering Installation Squadron and 137th Civilian Engineering Squadron. RFA notifications often include equipment and other items such as urban search and rescue support, route clearing packages, generators, fork lifts and staging area support.

When mission execution becomes necessary, the CP receives a Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) that addresses the mission details for each unit - "the who, what, when, where and how of the operation," said Baldwin.

Ultimately, once the official order is issued, unit-level Airmen are activated and put on State Active Duty (SAD).

During the May 3, 2013 tornado in Moore, activated Airmen from the 137th used their skills, training and expertise by helping to maintain order and protect civilian property, re-establishing communications and even helping to save lives by using OKANG technology to find and rescue those trapped under rubble.

However, McBride also emphasized that "the OKNG does not activate and deploy forces in support of civilian responders unless and until an official tasking has been received from OEM."

For Airmen, that means protecting themselves and their families should be their first priority while they prepare for a possible activation.

For tornado safety tips before, during and after a tornado, you can visit the Red Cross website,  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration webpage on tornadoes or FEMA's PrepareAthon readiness guide.