Intelligence officer uses innovation to support relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Robert Hicks
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

During the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the 621st Contingency Response Wing sent 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.

1st Lt. David Webb, 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron intelligence officer, 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 (COP) 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.

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 (SAA).

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

In essence, this COP, 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 Lt. Col. John Berger, 921st Contingency Response Squadron director of operations. “It allowed us to see the entire environment and plot the needs of a community real time, which enabled us to get supplies to the correct villages faster.”

After the 821st Contingency Response Group redeployed to the area, the COP created was used by follow-on forces to ensure continued support to the Puerto Rico relief efforts. 

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

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

Webb was recognized for his support to the hurricane relief operations and coined by Lt. Gen. Veralinn Jamieson, 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 CRW, 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.”