Civil Air Patrol used every imagery tool in its high-tech emergency services toolbox for its multi-mission response to Hurricane Ian, now wrapping up.

About 300 members from the Florida Wing and 23 other CAP wings participated on-site in the missions, which included Federal Emergency Management Agency requests for damage assessment imagery ranging from standard oblique photos taken with digital cameras to advanced orthomosaic images taken by specialized cameras mounted on CAP aircraft.

Members using CAP’s small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS, commonly known as drones) also provided photos in the earliest days of the response at the request of FEMA. One of the sUAS photos taken by a Missouri Wing team resulted in the rescue of a boater stranded in a mangrove swamp in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, which devastated much of south Florida — in particular, communities like Fort Myers and Naples on the Gulf Coast.

“This has most likely been the largest and most complex non-COVID mission CAP has participated in for several years,” said Lt. Col. John W. May, the Florida Wing’s director of emergency services.“

Many members of the Florida Wing leadership as well as many of the senior incident management team members from several other wings have been working 16-hour days as unpaid volunteers to support the citizens of Florida who were affected by Ian,” May said.

“The nationwide response to Hurricane Ian was nothing short of impressive,” said Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, CAP’s national commander and CEO. 

“From pre-landfall imagery of the Florida Coast to post-disaster imagery from the air and on the ground, CAP members across the country worked tirelessly to ensure those impacted by the storm had could be rescued and/or receive needed relief.

“I am incredibly proud of how members of the Florida Wing, Southeast Region, and the rest of CAP responded to this event,” Phelka said.

More than 116,000 photos were taken and uploaded by CAP aircrews and ground teams. The more advanced imagery produces a 3D, 360-degree view of storm-affected areas, which provided emergency management officials with a detailed look at the destruction wrought by Ian. 

On the ground, high-water mark photos were taken using CAP’s “Quick Capture” phone app.

“With repositioning and final cleanup flights, I’m estimating we’ll end up at around 240 flights for approximately 540 hours,” May said. 


“These numbers don’t include ‘safe haven’ flights to relocate our aircraft out of the storm’s path prior to landfall.”

The Ian missions were led remotely via Microsoft Teams, May said, as “only a few of the CAP aircrew bases had forward-support operations through fixed-based operators that volunteered their conference rooms at no charge.”

The CAP Geospatial Team’s mission was also critical to the response, helping FEMA and working in coordination with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to quickly identify the areas and structures most affected by the storm. 

When that effort concluded, 119 additional CAP members from 36 wings and two overseas squadrons based in Misawa and Yokota, Japan, had collaborated with FEMA and NGA to conduct imagery-based damage assessments of 56,000-plus structures in the state, including nearly 25,000 damaged structures, with CAP providing more than 1,270 hours of volunteer service.

Also — in a first for CAP — assisting in the damage assessment effort were 21 NGA employees who joined the CAP collaborative environment while conducting the assessments.

“Every additional trained set of eyes working the problem increases the speed of recovery for the victims,” said Maj. Scott Kaplan, national program manager for the CAP Geospatial Program.

“We are learning from every mission and group the team interacts with and continuing to build partnerships,” Kaplan said.

The interactive original version of the map depicted at right shows the storm-affected areas and indicates the magnitude o’ CAP’s response.