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South Carolina Air National Guard's Eagle Vision IV Tropical Storm Iselle Support

  • Published
  • By Capt. Roy Condrey
  • 169th Communications Flight
The members of the 169th Communications Flight Eagle Vision IV (EV4) Mobile Ground Satellite Downlink Station located at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., provided imagery to support the recovery efforts taking place in Hawaii after Tropical Storm Iselle pummeled the big island on Aug. 8, 2014. Iselle was the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years. Just hours before making landfall, Iselle was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but she still carried winds of more than 60 mph. Fortunately there were no deaths or major injuries reported, but the high winds and torrential rains triggered flooding in some areas as well as spreading debris on the roads making driving conditions hazardous.  
The Hawaii Air National Guard has its own Eagle Vision system (EV5). However the forecasted severity of the storm required EV 5 to be sheltered to protect the equipment from damage. With the EV 5 system stowed and unable to downlink imagery of the storm, EV 4 stepped in to support the effort. Since Hawaii is not in EV4's visibility circle, the EV4 team requested RADAR imagery from RADARSAT International that captured the predicted land fall of Iselle in Hawaii and then download the imagery to the nearest commercial ground station.

Once the images were downloaded to a file server, EV4's Master Sgt. Troy Wilkerson was able to access images via file-transfer-protocol over the internet. Immediately upon obtaining the raw images, he began to process the images by applying an operational flood mapping technique that he had previously used to show standing water in the Colorado floods of 2013. The technique involves overlapping an aerial image with a transparent radar image then highlighting flooded areas. He called his colleague and subject matter expert, Mr. Derrold Holcomb of Hexagon Geospatial for assistance. Holcomb assisted Wilkerson with the process of interpreting the radar images to identify the flooded areas. Once that was accomplished, Wilkerson highlighted the flooded boundaries with a bright coral outline. Next he made the radar image transparent enough to overlap atop an aerial image of the same area. The final product clearly marked all bodies of water in a bright coral boundary.

Wilkerson distributed the final product to Hawaii ANG EV5, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Air National Guard Readiness Center and the National Guard Bureau. The feedback he received was tremendous. The Hawaii ANG EV 5 Superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Reid T. Tsubota, was very appreciative of Wilkerson's effort and the assistance provided by EV4. 

The Eagle Vision program consists of five DoD-deployable, commercial satellite ground stations that are located in South Carolina, Alabama, California, Hawaii and Germany. They each provide customers with near real-time commercial satellite imagery of locations within their 1,300 mile visibility circle. Eagle Vision Stations are used to collect and disseminate imagery to various government agencies such as FEMA and USGS during natural disasters. They also support mission planning, time-critical targeting and non-war related operations. 

Because Eagle Vision has the capability to quickly acquire near real-time unclassified satellite imagery, they are highly sought after and utilized during most natural disasters within their visibility circle. The EV4 team most often provides images for events such as fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. The team has supported first responder efforts during Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, the earthquakes in Japan and Haiti, as well as tornado and fires in the Midwest.  Other than hurricanes, these events usually occur quickly and with no warning; therefore the team is required to be prepared to react and work unplanned hours.