The Clallam County Disaster Airlift Response Team, known as DART, has moved into an expanded operations center at the Fairchild International Airport.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 13 marked the opening of the new operations center, said Alan Barnard, chair and founder of this first DART in Washington state.
“The 30 pilots and 15 ground support personnel provide an all-volunteer team to process and fly critical supplies and personnel around Clallam County and neighboring communities in time of need,” said Barnard, who wrote the plan for Clallam County Disaster Airlift Response Team that was approved by county commissioners in 2018.
The center was donated for the team’s use through a joint cooperative Memorandum of Understanding between Clallam County Emergency Management Department and the Port of Port Angeles, which operates the airport.
It is in the former Transportation Security Administration room. Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol currently leases another office adjacent to the large space now to be used for disaster response.
Clallam County’s DART is considered a model for other such teams throughout the state, Barnard noted.
“Our DART is unique in Washington State and elsewhere in that we are the only DART that is annexed to Clallam County Emergency Management (CCEM),” he said.
”This allows our pilots to fly in restricted airspace immediately when activated by Emergency Management and fly missions according to the priorities established by the CCEM.”
“The Clallam County DART is the poster child that everyone is aspiring to,” said Undersheriff Ron Cameron, manager of the Emergency Management Department, “and a lot of that has to due with Alan.”
The volunteer pilots of DART already have helped the county with emergencies, Cameron said.
“Having their office at the airport makes absolute sense.”
The new facility allows for everything to be organized and set up at all work stations so volunteers can immediately begin the work of disaster relief when the DART is activated by Emergency Management, Barnard said.
It offer more storage space and has two overhead doors that open onto the tarmac allowing for aircraft loading and unloading of materials, supplies and personnel directly into the operations center.
The “previously granted shared use of the Airport Manager’s office for the DART was very small and did not allow for setting up fully ready work stations for an immediate response in time of need when the DART is activated by Emergency Management nor did it have direct access to the aircraft area,” Barnard said in a press release.
The threat of a 9.0-magnitude or higher quake from the 600-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Northwest Coast is a major reason to have the team at ready, according to Barnard.
Scientists have said it is not if, but when, such a quake will happen although it could be not for 50 or more years. When it does, the North Olympic Peninsula will be divided into about 30 “micro-islands” formed by collapsed bridges and failed culverts, emergency management officials have warned.
“Roads, bridges and waterways may be impacted by a major Cascadia level earthquake event, leaving our volunteer pilots potentially the only lifeline for days or weeks in the aftermath,” Barnard said.
“Relief missions can also be activated for smaller disasters such as landslides and floods,” he said.
In November 2021, the DART was activated to get fresh water to Sekiu after a massive landslide damaged a water main end cut off fresh water to the West End community. Pilots flew about 180 cases of water to Sekiu.
They also are enlisted to fly over areas after storms to see the conditions of highways, Cameron said, also noting they flew COVID vaccine out too the West End.
Washington State Emergency Management is hosting monthly zoom meetings with emergency managers and developing DARTs around the state under the Clallam County model, Barnard said.
On May 13, the Clallam County DART conducted a general meeting for coordinating this summer’s training exercises plus additional safety and operational training to be employed with the increased operating space afforded by this new operations center, Barnard said.
David Woodcock, vice chair of the DART, presented two power point safety and operational readiness briefings along with a simulated scenario of material processing from beginning to end.
“This kind of collaboration between the Port of Port Angeles and Emergency Management sends a strong message of our local governments commitment to disaster response for our citizens along with the volunteer spirit and expertise of local volunteer pilots, at their own expense and volunteer ground support folks dedicated to saving lives in times of need,” Barnard said.