Taking Disaster Relief to Great Heights
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile
— Albert Einstein
Dreams of flight often evoke a sense of freedom , like we ’ re able to transcend the burdens from below . For pilots like Paul Marshall , it isn ’ t enough to experience this feeling in real life , but to use his flight expertise to ease the burdens of others through his commitment to the California Disaster Airlift Response Team ( CalDART ). by Crystal Han , photos by Mike Sanchez
the state and 280 registered pilots . In the last few years they have been involved in three different relief missions .
During the Oregon fires of 2020 , CalDART partnered with Direct Relief , America ’ s largest supplier of free medical goods , and flew donated medical supplies to the firefighters of Oregon .
CalDART is a statewide network that provides volunteer disaster air transportation services to help communities impacted by disasters . It is unique in that it is the only organization in the country that is specifically focused on being prepared for disaster scenarios and has an operations manual detailing how to approach disasters based on the number of participants involved . “ Different operations scale up at different sizes . If you have one person , it ’ s going to be organized differently than if you have four people ,” Marshall explained .
The roots of CalDART ’ s disaster-centric approach began with the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 , which caused massive damages throughout the Bay Area . Most people know that Loma Prieta caused San Francisco ’ s Bay Bridge to collapse . What many aren ’ t aware of is that the earthquake also destroyed parts of Highway 17 and other roadways , cutting off the communities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville from outside help .
Pilots from the San Martin airport and all around the Bay Area participated in a joint airlift operation that flew supplies into the Watsonville airport . In total , they were able to fly half a million pounds of supplies to help the people of Watsonville and Santa Cruz . “ It helped alleviate the misery and suffering that was going on for them ,” Marshall said . Although the air lift operation was a success , some of the San Martin pilots who participated felt that it wasn ’ t well organized , and that if they had been better prepared they could have gotten help to people faster . Paul Marshall and a small group of other pilots decided to organize a disaster response team to address this .
Getting CalDART up and running took a lot of planning and a bit of trial and error , but today it is its own independent corporation . It has twelve disaster airlift response teams around
In the beginning of the pandemic , when there was a shortage of PPE supplies , CalDArt teamed up with the NorCal and SoCal Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster and distributed PPE to food banks , senior housing , and other essential facilities for four months , until the PPE shortage dissipated .
During the California Dixie Fire , CalDART responded to a request from the United Methodist Committee on Relief to fly school supplies from Southern California to Greenville , Northern California , where many families had lost their school supplies due to lost homes or evacuations . “ I think we had a couple thousand pounds of school supplies that we flew up there , and that was tricky because the fire was ongoing and we had to fly through smoke columns . You couldn ’ t see outside the windows at all ,” Marshall said of the experience .
Marshall is happy that he was able to help with all of these missions , but his sights are still on the bigger picture . “ It ’ s good to do a little bit of good every year , but California is prone to earthquakes , floods , and mudslides . When the next Loma Prieta comes , we don ’ t want to be like the pilots in our last airdrop that took a long time to get going . We want to have a lot of people that we know are practiced on how to organize these things ; pilots who are ready to fly and jump into action ,” he said . He has made it his personal mission to spread the CalDART model nationally . One of the biggest obstacles in CalDART ’ s growth is lack of awareness . “ If you look at the communities of Morgan Hill , San Martin , and Gilroy , I think there ’ s very few people who know that Cal- DART exists ,” Marshall said . And if the public doesn ’ t know about it , they won ’ t know that they can rely on it during times of crisis .
Marshall understands that disaster preparation isn ’ t high on the list of things people get excited about , however he tries
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