NEW ORLEANS -- The 2017 hurricane season saw the development of multiple record setting storms and hurricanes. Two in particular, Hurricane Harvey, that hit Texas in late August, and Hurricane Irma, which hit less than two weeks later in the Caribbean Islands, caused some of the greatest damage to those regions in recent years.
Overall damages cost more than $100 billion and the roadway infrastructure of Houston and Puerto Rico took a massive hit, significantly slowing relief efforts.
Reserve Marines with Production and Analysis Company, Intelligence Support Battalion, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, attending Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, did their part to aid disaster relief by assisting in the creation of 3,000 maps for Houston and Puerto Rican residents that would allow aid workers and rescuers to find viable means of traversing the devastated landscape.
Due to the necessity of alternative routes within the affected areas, the maps were downloaded more than 1,000 times within the first hour of their release.
These relief efforts wouldn’t have been possible without the development of the Headquarters Marine Corps partnership with Delta State University.
The Undergraduate Geospatial-Intelligence Professional Development is a HQMC initiative, and is the first of its kind in the Marine Corps. Now entering its third academic year, the Delta State UGPD has been providing innovative, cost effective means for Marines to achieve their Under Secretary of Defense Intelligence GEOINT Professional Certifications, while simultaneously earning a Bachelor of Applied Science Geospatial Analysis and Intelligence degree.
“The objective with the hurricanes was to decongest a lot of the clutter that comes with the mapping of a crises area,” said Sgt. Austin Parker, a geographic intelligence specialist with P&A Co., ISB, FHG, MARFORRES. “A lot of times, we have state and local law enforcement working all in one area and they don't use the same coordinate systems as we do. By making one map product, and dispersing that to all agencies, we're able to better enable them to move faster and quicker and talk more effectively with their units.”
Reserve Marines, students, staff and faculty with Delta State GEOINT Technologies Center volunteered to produce accurate, detailed U.S. national grid maps of the areas most affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The maps were a key resource for emergency responders in aiding communities in the Houston area which that suffered record levels of rainfall and flooding ; and by those blasted by Irma’s 150 miles per hour winds in Dominica, Guadalupe and Puerto Rico.
“The GIT center is often asked to support natural disaster relief efforts,” said Talbot Brooks, the GIT center director. “This is the nature of our continuing work with first responders, such as fire and police departments. Floods, earthquakes, epidemics and other disasters require immediate mapping support to help responders use their limited resources to best meet the most critical needs. Having Reserve Marines here as students gave our work a running start as they are already versed in fundamentals like military grid reference systems and topographic mapping.”
With the experience gained from working a 24-hour, non-stop schedule of making maps for all those involved, each of the Reserve Marines were able to utilize their time to better themselves as experts in their field.
“I came to DSU two weeks before Harvey and Irma kicked up,” said Cpl. Gunnar Kaltenberger, a geographic intelligence specialist with P&A Co., ISB, FHG, MARFORRES. “At the time, all I had was the training from our schoolhouse last year and couple courses with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Producing the map products for the hurricanes was a rocky process as we learned on the fly for Harvey how to coordinate our efforts to meet the requirements in an efficient manner. Thankfully, when Irma hit we were already still spun up from Harvey and things went far smoother than before. Had I not been at DSU I wouldn't have had this unique opportunity to rapidly grow beyond the basic skills I had. I learned one word that applies to geographic information systems most of all-- adaptability."