Brace Helps With Humanitarian Efforts in Aftermath of Typhoon Yutu
Vol.5 Issue 1
Image of Super Typhoon Yutu as it approaches Mariana Islands

On November 5, 2018, Tricia Brace, the Emergency Readiness Officer for the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, was contacted by Gary Barber, the DOT Regional Emergency Transportation Representative (ASW-001) and asked if she would deploy to Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands as part of the Regional Emergency Transportation Cadre (RET-C) Typhoon Yutu Response Effort.

The next day, Tricia began a two and half-day journey to the South Pacific, alone, and excited. Tricia had responded to disaster areas in the past, but considering this was on the other side of the globe, and communication would be limited, there was a tinge of uncertainty. While in the Guam Airport, after two days of traveling, Tricia met a team from the FAA who were also heading to Saipan. None of them fully understood how they were connected in this disaster, but the fact that they were all from the FAA gave Tricia a strong sense of camaraderie, and that she was no longer traveling alone.

When arriving on the one and only inbound flight to Saipan, Tricia observed that the damage was very bad. Typhoon Yutu had brought heavy rainfall, with maximum sustained winds of 180mph (290kph). It was clear that this typhoon was the most powerful storm to make landfall on U.S. territory since 1935.

There was damage everywhere. Finding a functioning rental car that was not smashed up was difficult. The lack of street signs, few functional traffic lights, ongoing debris removal operations, and downed power lines made driving very hazardous. The extremely high winds had caused damage to homes, businesses, utilities, cellphone towers, and critical infrastructure.

For humanitarians trying to help, finding a rental car that was not smashed or enveloped in debris was a challenge.
Members of the Red Cross help to provide aid to families in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Residents were warned by emergency management officials to stay indoors because of downed power lines blocking roadways.

Tricia learned as soon as she arrived that an island-wide Boil-Water Advisory was in effect. Most of the survivors were located in areas that remained without power or access to potable water. Dislocated populations (immigrants and refugees) without ready access to food, water, and shelter were at a higher risk for health-related problems. Outreach and mitigation was ongoing throughout the island and there was concern about potential health-related issues due to the lack of water. The people of Saipan needed food, water, medical support, generators, tents, and construction supplies, and they needed them quickly.

When first arriving at the airport, the area open to the public had been cleaned. However, within a few days Tricia went back to the airport and learned that after Typhoon Yutu, the Saipan International Airport was severely damaged. All of the electronic navigational aids at the airport were torn down, and the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and base building suffered substantial damage. The Saipan Airport was forced to issue a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) limiting operations to relief/humanitarian flights during daylight operations only.

At the airport, the glass windows of the Air Traffic Control Tower had been blown out, allowing water to damage equipment inside. Additionally, the airport power grid system was destroyed, and many aircraft were shredded. All of the passenger ramps were broken, the terminal was flooded, and even the entrance awnings had collapsed.

The Saipan International Airport air traffic control tower sustained significant damage.
Many of the navigational aids on the island were rendered inoperable.
Saipain’s Airport took a substantial hit with shredded aircraft, flooded terminals, and collapsed awnings.

Because of the threats to human life, it was critical that relief/humanitarian flight be expanded beyond daylight operations as soon as possible. FAA teams went to work immediately. A few days after the storm, FAA members brought in a mobile Airport Traffic Control Tower, (shipped on a military plane), from Boise, Idaho. The mobile ATCT was placed on top of two shipping containers to raise its elevation.

FAA personnel installed a mobile air traffic control tower to help the airport receive incoming flights.
A mobile air traffic control tower was placed on top of an empty cargo container to assist on the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport’s air traffic control services.

A group of 15 FAA technical operations employees from Guam, Saipan, and other locations throughout the United States were on site assisting local airport officials. This is when Tricia became reunited with some of her FAA travel partners, all of them working hard in the Saipan heat to get the airport operational.

While in Saipan, Tricia was assigned to work in the Joint Field Office working with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Her role was to support other government and nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector in managing transportation systems during this disaster. Because this storm caused mostly wind damage, the Saipan Airport was the main transportation system needing USDOT support. “The effort and support from FAA people, all over the country, in searching for the parts to make sure we had everything that we needed to put the airport back together was incredible,” said Tricia.

“People don’t realized how far reaching the work we do every day at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center is to others around the world,” Tricia said. For example, during Typhoon Yutu the FAA Logistic Center provided logistic support and gathered potential requirements, processed 87 orders for parts required for system repair/restoration, packaged, crated, and secured shipping for these items. Technicians, inventory managers, and production controllers made sure that assets were repaired and transported as requested.

Others at the Aeronautical Center were an enormous help. For example, the people within the Office of Facility Management (AMP) covered for Tricia while she was deployed, thereby giving the Aeronautical Center an opportunity to support this effort. Additionally, a wealth of emergency preparedness knowledge was brought back to Oklahoma from the experience. The agency’s Oklahoma IT Help Desk was tremendously helpful when Tricia lost IT connection, due to cell towers being down. With an 8-hour time difference, employees often worked late into the evening to provide assistance.

After Tricia returned to Oklahoma, she was introduced to the CASTLE Team and with the e-Travel team. Tricia’s travel and time accounting was complicated in having crossed the International Date Line twice. “I have heard horror stories from other responders who had been waiting many months to settle such accounts. Today I can say because of all the hard work of others; my accounts are all settled,” says Tricia.

As of November 25th, all of the navigation needs of the Saipan Airport were fully restored. The FAA continues to work with the Commonwealth Ports Authority to assess and repair the remaining damages to the ATCT and base building.

While in Saipan, Tricia met many people who had lost a great deal of their possessions, yet the people where gracious and very appreciative. Tricia said “I have always loved what I do, but I can honestly say I have never been so proud and humbled to be a part of this great FAA organization.”

Kids helping with the American Red Cross and service members assigned to Joint Task Group-Saipan Task Force-West provided help in distributing emergency supplies.
Although weathered by the storm, members of the Kensington Hotel in Saipan demonstrate their gratitude for all the first responders.
 
 
 
 
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