Face of Defense: Airman's Innovation Benefits Relief Efforts

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, when the Air Force’s 621st Contingency Response Wing deployed more than 150 airmen throughout Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands, one airman in particular employed an innovative way to facilitate support to the relief mission.

Air Force 1st Lt. David Webb, an intelligence officer with the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron here, identified a critical role open-source data could play to help expedite the hurricane relief efforts to more than 3.5 million civilians in the wake of the most recent hurricanes.

As one of the first intelligence officers to deploy to Puerto Rico in support of the relief efforts, Webb had the idea to use publicly available information to help deliver life-saving supplies to where they were needed most. He developed a common operating picture using Google Earth to gather background information that could be employed as a navigation tool.

“Through the use of publically available information, as well as working with sister services and other DoD support agencies, I was able to gather essential information, including disaster-ridden locations, accessibility to these locations, and needs of the local area for the placement of distribution points and regional staging areas for relief supplies,” Webb said.

Building a Shared Resource

Once Webb was able to pinpoint hard-to-reach areas, he used the tool to add additional information, such as grid coordinates, sources of information, contact information and needs of the area. He provided this information directly to the senior airfield authority.

“The COP was also used to provide the SAA, contingency response element commander and other [leaders with] situational awareness updates, enable force protection of the airfield and shape leadership decisions,” Webb said. “The COP was also used by the Army, Marines, [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife [Service], American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

In essence, the common operating picture provided teams on the ground in Puerto Rico with a centralized hub of information to coordinate logistical support.

“The COP was an amazing tool,” said Air Force Lt. Col. John Berger, the 921st Contingency Response Squadron’s director of operations. “It allowed us to see the entire environment and plot the needs of a community [in] real time, which enabled us to get supplies to the correct villages faster.”

The common operating picture was also used by follow-on forces to ensure continuity of support to the Puerto Rico relief efforts.

As a direct result of Webb’s innovation, Defense Department aircrews and federal agencies were able to deliver 8.7 million pounds of aid across the island.

Innovation

Webb was selected to present his innovative product during the National Reconnaissance Office Air Force A2 Industry Symposium. During this conference, he was able to share his ideas and connect with industry leaders to help support future mobility missions.

“Webb is consummate professional,” said Air Force Maj. William Taylor, the 321st Air Mobility Operations Squadron’s senior intelligence officer. “He’s Intelligent and dedicated to his craft. His inquisitive disposition and knack for problem-solving made him a shoo-in for the mission, and it paid off."

Webb was recognized for his support to the hurricane relief operations and received a challenge coin from Air Force Lt. Gen. Veralinn Jamieson, the deputy chief of staff for Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Innovation is a critical part of Air Force history and will be a critical part of the Air Force future,” Berger said. “Airmen tend to think outside the box and tackle problems in new and innovative ways. In the [contingency response wing], our mission is extremely dynamic, ranging from humanitarian relief to combat operations, so we require people who can find new ways to make the team more efficient and effective.”