"There's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst."
Why does a General Aviation Airport matter in disaster relief?
General Aviation aircraft require very basic infrastructure in order to operate, and are well-suited for serving is a disaster-relief role.
California is facing a trying future. The state is due again for a massive earthquake, and the Silicon Valley is nestled in between not 1, not 2, but 3 separate fault lines. The Federal Emergency Management Agency modeled the effects of 7.0 and 7.8 earthquakes on the Hayward and San Andreas faults in the Bay Area Catastrophic Earthquake plan and found that the Bay Area transportation grid could suffer regionwide points of failure, disrupting the flow of people and supplies for weeks or months.
Additionally, with climate change becoming more and more apparent, wildfires will only grow in fury, and the fire season will begin to expand as California experiences year after year of record breaking droughts. It is imperative that we have the infrastructure in place to combat the wildfires. There will come a time where the people of the East Side cannot afford the time required to fly between San Martin and the East Foothills. We can help save San Jose from becoming the next Coffey Park by stationing permanent firefighting assets at Reid Hillview.
Reid Hillview, and the numerous general aviation airports throughout California can provide a network for the transportation of supplies to communities who are inaccessible, or too far from other disaster centers. These airports can also serve as a distribution center for supplies, and a hub for those displaced from their homes.
Located a reasonably short walk for hundreds of thousands of Santa Clara County residents, Reid Hillview could serve as a lifeline for food resupply, emergency evacuation, and distribution of a variety of life saving supplies. Aviation cannot hope to replace the surface transportation grid, but it can keep people alive and reduce misery while the roads and highway system are brought brought back into service.
Reid Hillview, and its capability to host thousands of annual operations would be handle small payloads and short haul transportation needs, providing a valuable supplement to the 160,000 operations at SJC for long-haul, large payload flights.
An aerial photograph depicting the ruins of Coffey Park by Chad Surmick that was destroyed by the Wine Country Fires of 2017.
Reid Hillview's Disaster Relief History
Loma Prieta Airlift
A video titled "Lifeline" providing an account of the Loma Prieta Airlift to Watsonville; of which 80 aircraft from Reid Hillview transported supplies to the stricken city.
It was on October 17, 1989, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake devastated California, destroying a vast extent of infrastructure in the Bay Area. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the only routes into the city of Watsonville were impassible, with many points of failure, making the town accessible only by air.
Alongside many other volunteers, pilots at Reid Hillview Airport sprang into action, putting together a fleet of 80 aircraft to transport donated supplies from our neighbors on the East Side. After 300 flights, a total of 250,000 lbs, or 125 tons, were transported to the people of Watsonville from Reid Hillview alone. Watch the video above, and realize that San Jose could be the next city in desperate need of relief. Reid Hillview would be a strategic asset to the safety and well-being of the one million people who call San Jose home.
SCU Lightning Complex Fires
On August 16th, 2020, the Bay Area was plagued by dry lightning strikes, igniting 20 separate fires that eventually combined to create the third largest wildfire in our state's history.
In total, 369,624 acres were incinerated across six California counties, with 222 structures destroyed, a further 26 damaged, and six injuries incurred. 100% containment was confirmed on October 1st, making the wildfire active for at total of 44 days.
Aerial firefighting efforts were a key component of the fight against the fires. Several Bay Area airports, including San Martin and Hollister were used by CalFire to create several aerial attack bases.
In the final weeks of August, fire-fighting efforts were established at Reid Hillview. Two fire-fighting helicopters, over the course of three days, utilized ramp space at Reid Hillview to refill and complete numerous drops.
"The Day the Sky turned Orange"
A photograph of downtown San Francisco on September 9th, 2020, when prevailing weather conditions colored the skies over the Bay Area a terrifying orange as smoke billowed from the SCU Lightning Complex Fire.
-Photo by Jessica Christian of the SF Chronicle
Some people say that any 8-acres in the county could have been used to conduct these operations .CALFIRE has shown time and again that it develops long term relationships with identified airports to support its supplemental fire-fighting operations. The space is available at the airport to support firefighting equipment, while another 8-acres may not be readily available as the county continues to consume its open space and infrastructure for housing and retail developments.
A Billings CH-47 Chinook fire-fighting helicopter refilling with retardant at Reid Hillview Airport to combat fires in the East Foothills of San Jose.
The portable retardant pools made available to firefighting helicopters which made a number of runs over a three day period to the East Foothills.
Organizations at the Airport
There are currently two organizations based at Reid Hillview that can provide aid in the event of any future disasters.
Civil Air Patrol
The Civil Air Patrol is an Auxiliary Branch of the United States Air Force, specializing in providing search-and-rescue and disaster relief services, along with giving the Youth of America with an opportunity to build their personalities, and become the aerospace leaders of the future, along
At Reid Hillview, Civil Air Patrol Squadron 36 and Squadron 80 both serve the East Side Community. The two squadrons also have a Cessna 182 Skylane, pictured to the right, used for introductory flights to cadets, teachers, and future Air Force Pilots, as well as for search-and-rescue flights. CAP also provides aerial photography of regions that have been impacted by wildfires to provide a scale of the damage and make that information available to insurance companies.
California Disaster Airlift Response Team
The California Disaster Airlift Response Team, or CalDART for short, is a volunteer-organization of general aviation pilots, and aircraft owners throughout California, who are prepared to provide relief when California's next great disaster takes place.
They have been instrumental in conducting numerous recent humanitarian flights across the state, including a recent airlift of 5000 pounds of medical supplies on behalf of the organization, Direct Relief, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Direct Relief turned to CalDART, along with Angel Flight West, and the Oregon Pilot's Association, when wildfires required fast transportation to get senior management between airports. The airlift also transported badly needed supplies, which included 100,000 KN95 masks.
Reid Hillview has an active number of pilots, on stand-by, ready to assemble when the time comes.
A video published by California organization, Direct Relief, about the participation of General Aviation Pilots in the airlift of medical supplies to Eugene, Oregon.