Hurricane Irma

Rescue Global Deployment to the Caribbean in Response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Our team deployed in response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria for two months, from early September to early November 2017. Working in coordination with partner agencies and our Crisis and Disaster Resilience Alliance (CaDRA), Rescue Global transported 379 people and over 79,000lbs of cargo through the humanitarian airbridge that we established. We worked across the region, and focused our efforts on Dominica, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Our teams provided the following services: medical assistance; Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence (C4I); reconnaissance; needs assessments: and inter-agency coordination and support. We worked to the host nation authorities and working with international official agencies. This mission was named Operation Ursula, after the patron saint of the Virgin Islands, some of the first places to by hard hit by Hurricane Irma.

During this deployment Rescue Global teams:

  • Transported 379 passengers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians
  • Evacuated over 100 vulnerable or sick people to more comprehensive health care
  • Moved over 79,000lbs of cargo, including high value cold chain medical supplies
  • Worked in close collaboration with the government of Dominica, with international humanitarian organisations, local grassroots organisations, media outlets, and the volunteer community

Below are summaries of the main areas of work by the Rescue Global teams:

Humanitarian Airbridge

Rescue Global partnered with International Medical Corps (IMC) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to transport personnel around the islands, and to conduct the evacuation of patients and medical emergencies, in collaboration with the Dominican Health Ministry.

Our pilots flew doctors and medical supplies such as blood, into a number of islands including the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Dominica. We also relocated a number of UN personnel working through the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

We partnered with Airlink and Patient Airlift Services to establish an air bridge for Dominica. The air bridge works by using heavy aircraft to fly in aid such as food, water, shelter and hygiene supplies from the USA to the Rescue Global location in Barbados. The Rescue Global air fleet then enabled vital aid to reach communities in the “last mile”, working with community and grassroots organisations to ensure equitable distribution of aid.

Rescue Global enabled others in the Caribbean to carry out their humanitarian work. For example, we partnered with DART International UK, a unique volunteer team of qualified arborists, who cleared downed trees, enabling aid and rescue organisations to access hard to reach areas.

We transported humanitarian workers from Team Rubicon UK and US, Global Dirt, and Caribbean Relief, to ensure that their teams are able to rapidly access areas not serviced by commercial carriers, swap in team members and achieve their own mission intents.

Pathfinder Reconnaissance Deployments

Medical Facility & Route Access Assessments

Rescue Global Pathfinder teams rapidly deployed to conduct damage assessments of access routes across the island, and of medical facilities. The information gathered through these assessments resulted in clear medical needs identification, which were disseminated to the International Medical Corps and the Pan American Health Organization, so that they could fulfil the personnel and supplies requirements, to then be transported by Rescue Global.

Water Filter Training & Distribution

Partnering with Mexican NGO, CADENA, Rescue Global delivered 500 water filters and trained people in their use in communities lacking clean, safe drinking water across the eastern side of the island. These will provide water for up to 50,000 people in the coming years.

In addition our teams distributed some simple rainwater harvesting materials, so that households can benefit from the regular rainfall. Water filters distribution is centred in schools, churches and other communal buildings, in order to ensure greatest equitability in aid provision.

Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Assessment

Rescue Global was engaged by Emera Caribbean/ DOMLEC - the energy company providing electricity to Dominica - to conduct a damage assessment of the power grid. Using road and foot patrol, as well as Unmanned Aerial Survey (UAS), the team assessed the impact of Hurricane Maria on electricity poles across all the main distributions on the island. Using ARCGiS, the team uploaded the data daily, enabling the energy company to make crucial decisions about the rebuild and resilience efforts of this aspect of CNI.

The entries below are a running log of activities by the Rescue Global team during the deployment.

Tuesday 17th October

Rescue Global’s Rebekah Yore and Jo Riches have been based in Dominica conducting academic fieldwork. Travelling along the east coast of the island, they have been interviewing the residents of a number of different towns and villages about their experiences during and post-Hurricane Maria. This information, gathered at a time when the relief phase is beginning to wind down and people are moving into recovery, is informing Rebekah’s ongoing PhD, sponsored by Rescue Global and UCL. The information gathered from the Dominican people, only one month following the hurricane, will also help to guide Rescue Global’s future response and resilience operations in the Caribbean.

Monday 16th October

Over the last week, our team of Rescue Global and volunteer pilots have been coordinating the “last mile” distribution of a large consignment of tarpaulins. In the high rainfall environment of Dominica, where over 90% of buildings have sustained roof damage, tarpaulins are essential to help people protect their homes and belongings until structures are more permanently rebuilt.

The tarpaulins have been brought into the hurricane-affected region by DHL for Airlink and will be distributed on the ground by ADRA International. Our wonderful volunteer pilots - Todd and Max - have been braving very severe weather conditions today, to ensure this aid gets to people in Dominica as quickly as possible.

As well as the tarpaulins, our teams have also been continuing to transport critical medical supplies on behalf of PAHO-WHO and International Medical Corps.

PALS Sky Hope have been ensuring we have a roster of volunteer pilots. The PC12 aircraft that Todd and Max have been piloting has been very generously provided for these humanitarian efforts by AirSF (https://airsf.com).

Monday 9th October

During Operation Ursula, the Rescue Global response to Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria, we are being followed by a media team to make a documentary about our work. This short video was created to highlight one tactical aspect of our work, the rescue of critically ill people. The full documentary will cover all aspects of our work, including the strategic (empowering nation states and lead agencies). We hope that you enjoy this short video demonstrating some of the evacuation missions we have been undertaking

Sunday 8th October

The Rescue Global Pathfinder team deployed for a second time to Dominica to work with Dominica Electrical Services Limited (DOMLEC), a national utility company, to conduct damage assessments of major power distribution lines across the island. DOMLEC operates Dominica’s existing power infrastructure, serving approximately 35,418 customers (roughly 98% of households). The island suffered devastating destruction, and the national power infrastructure was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Traversing the island, the team recorded the status of power lines using a bespoke GIS mapping application and reported back to DOMLEC and the RG team in Barbados, in an effort to expedite the reinstatement of power across Dominica.

​Update - Sunday 24th September

Our team have now located to Barbados, having moved out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, just ahead of Hurricane Maria. The base is Barbados in order to work closely with CDEMA (the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency), as Rescue Global always works directly with the government(s) of disaster affected nations.

On Sunday 24th September the team will be working on multiple humanitarian missions. A group will be conducting aerial surveys of damage on the island of Dominica, which sustained devastating damage during Hurricane Irma. The team will be ensuring that the airfield is clear for larger aircraft to start to come in with aid, and to carry out evacuations. The Rescue Global team will also be meeting with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s Office in order to work with the authorities on ongoing urgent humanitarian needs, as well as enabling the rapid deployment of our partner NGO DART International and the International Medical Corps, with whom we aim to meet the Department of Health and National Disaster Management Agency.

Part of the Rescue Global team will also be meeting tomorrow with other major humanitarian organisations to plan for medical evacuations and medical treatment by air and sea, across the entire region, over the coming weeks, which Rescue Global will be implementing.

The DART International (Disaster Arborist Response Team), is joining our team from tomorrow with a group of four experts, and will be tasked with clearing fallen trees and debris, in order to restore Critical National Infrastructure, such as power and communications, across the affected islands.

The large scale airlift and maritime distribution of aid in partnership with Airlink and Patient Airlift Services continues, with bulk aid being brought into the region within the next few days. You can support this by donating here: http://bit.ly/2fiwuDS

Also continuing is the crowd-sourced assessment of pre and post hurricane satellite images in partnership with Zooniverse and the University of Oxford. We still need more volunteers for this effort - join us: http://bit.ly/2wrFpsv

Many of the Caribbean islands have sustained catastrophic damage. Whilst the urgent humanitarian needs must be met, long-term recovery must also be considered, in order to restore the region’s economies and infrastructure, and increase resilience to future similar events.

Update - Tuesday 19th September

The Rescue Global response to Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria:

Due to the incoming category 5 Hurricane Maria, having already hard hit the islands of Domenica, Martinique and Guadeloupe, we have pulled our team team out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we had set up our base of operations. Puerto Rico is expected to be heavily impacted, having not experienced a hurricane of this magnitude in over 85 years.

The hurricane approaching could have destroyed our aircraft, represented a life risk to the team, and render us ineffective. Our job is to save life and enable others, not to become a burden. We have moved to the south of the region, just outside of the impact area of Hurricane Maria and are in detailed planning for our next steps, once the impacts of the new storm system are clear.

Our future intent is to move rapidly back into the affected region on the tail of Hurricane Maria, our Pathfinder Teams conducting rapid reconnaissance and needs assessments. These will empower the Air and Sea Bridge that we are establishing with Airlink and Patient AirLift Services and other partners.

We will bring in hundreds of tonnes of aid from outside the region, up to and including the vital last mile (to those who need is most).

In the meantime, we are closely monitoring Hurricane Maria, and express a heartfelt desire that all in her path stay safe.

Update - Thursday 14th September

Rescue Global and S.A.R.A.I.D are teaming up with Airlink and Patient Airlift Services (PALS) to deliver a high volume of humanitarian aid to the Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma. The Operation Airlift Irma partnership will work with 8 air carriers and 60+ NGO partners to deliver aid such as medical​ supplies, ​food, water​, sanitation, hygiene ​supplies, emergency ​shelter, telecommunications, and ​generators ​to ​provide​ emergency​ electricity.

We are working in close collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster​ and ​Emergency​ Management ​Agency ​(CDEMA),​ the ​UN ​World​ Food Program ​(WFP)​ Logistics Cluster, ​Government ​of ​the ​British ​Virgin ​Islands, ​USAID ​Office​ of​ Foreign​ Disaster ​Assistance ​(USAID / OFDA), ​FEMA / VITEMA, to ensure a credible and effective response.

The Rescue Global role will be two-fold. Firstly, to gather needs assessments through satellite image assessment, aerial surveys, and ground surveys by our Pathfinder teams and our partners at S.A.R.A.I.D. This information will allow for prioritisation of aid across all islands affected by Irma, as well ensuring specific urgent needs are met, such as food, water, and medical assistance. In addition to ground and air teams, we are crowd-sourcing pre and post disaster satellite imagery analysis on the platform Zooniverse, in partnership with the University of Oxford, in order to generate “heat maps” of clear evidence of damage.

Secondly, Rescue Global will take on the role of coordinating aid deliveries to those most in need, receiving heavy aircraft from the continental USA into San Juan (Puerto Rico) provided by our partners at Airlink, from where Rescue Global will then push that aid forward, using a volunteer fleet of light aircraft provided by Airlink, Lift and PALS.

Our mission intent is:

To Save Life, by enabling others. Rescue Global personnel will deploy to The Virgin Islands to provide command support to the relief efforts.

Our mission objectives in brief are:
As an organisation coordinating a response to Hurricane Irma and Jose with a network of key partners, we are issuing two primary calls to action:

  1. The safe deployment to, operation in, and recovery from the area with a fully insured, vetted and qualified team supervised by Watchkeep HQ in London, complete with trackers and communications.
  2. To enable local rescue teams with the support that could include enabling the leadership team to access the area.
  3. To deploy medical (EMTs and doctors) personnel, along with search and rescue capacity to support the Virgin Islands medical capability.
  4. To provide leadership and support to nation state authorities, local fire, medical, police and volunteers on the ground, specifically with a view to medical evacuations and initial search and rescue activities.
  5. To report and so enable the British military (HMS Ocean and others) through PJHQ, and the US Military (Rescue Squadrons) via SouthCom, for the largest medical and life-saving impact.
  6. To coordinate and advise other agencies, including local and international NGOs to ensure their best and most effective use.
  7. To provide 500 + water filters that provide clean water for 50,000 people over the next 5 years.

​These short clips show some of the areas of expertise our team are bringing to the deployment: aviation, satellite communications, and UN OSOCC coordination.

First call: if you have interests (personal and/or professional) in the US and British Virgin Islands and require assistance or wish to provide help, please reach out to us; we may be able to support or work with you.

Second call: if you are an NGO or organisation with capabilities or capacity to respond, support and assist us, please contact us and we can connect you to our Director of Preparedness to discuss further.

Follow our team’s deployment to the Caribbean through regular updates (SITREPs) here and on our social media.

For any media enquiries, please contact hannah@rescueglobal.org.

Hurricane Irma

Thursday 19th October

Today Rescue Global delivered the last of a shipment of over 7,250 lbs of tarpaulins to Dominica. This aid, coordinated by Airlink, PALS Sky Hope, LIFT Non-Profit Logistics and facilitated by DHL was received by ADRA International. Here, Priscilla from ADRA talks about why the tarpaulins are so needed in Dominica.

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