Saturday, January 20, 2018

Operation Pretty Picture

November 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


Sandy 3 CAPSuperstorm Sandy unleashed its fury on Long Island in 2012, with damage estimates rising well above $500 billion. The devastation included Long Beach losing its iconic boardwalk, Fire Island’s boathouse and ferry terminal washing away, almost half of Freeport under water, Tobay Beach’s ocean dunes disappearing, and more than 100,000 residential homes damaged or destroyed.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Red Cross were front-and-center assisting and aiding after Sandy’s devastation, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadrons from northeastern states were quietly starting to take flight — Operation Pretty Picture was underway.

CAP, established in 1941 at the beginning of World War II, is the official U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. CAP has a nation-wide membership of 64,000 aviation enthusiasts volunteering their time for missions including emergency disaster response, ground operations, cadet programs, aerospace education, counter-drug/drug interdiction, and training/evaluation for the U.S. Air Force.

At FEMA’s request, CAP undertook the area’s immediate needs, documenting coastal changes in Sandy’s aftermath. Captain Joseph Pizzo, CAP Director of Emergency Services Long Island, relates, “At the time of the response, the seven squadrons that comprise the Long Island Group of Civil Air Patrol flew 20 sorties [flights] over 10 days. We compiled almost 50 hours in the air, taking literally thousands of photographs of the affected areas.” Twenty-one regional CAP units, called wings, flew precise grid pattern formations onboard Cessna 182T aircraft, each with three persons aboard, amassing a collection of more than 158,000 aerial images of Sandy’s path. civil air patrol logo

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) compared CAP’s post-Superstorm Sandy images to photographs taken in May 2009. Using baseline images such as the ones of Mecox Bay, USGS noted that southern Long Island suffered a larger-than-average post-storm breach as material swept into the bay, constricting the already narrow passage even further.

The aerial documentation showed a repetitive breach at Cupsogue Beach near Moriches Inlet, while an entirely new inlet was created close to Old Inlet at Pelican Island. Fire Island lost much of its natural sheltering sand dunes in addition to the loss of 200 homes. Several communities, including Ocean Bay Park and Neponsit, also experienced damage and destruction of houses and considerable beach erosion due to the storm’s powerful impact.

CAP training mission photo courtesy U.S. Air ForceThe post-Sandy aerial mission was the largest ever undertaken by CAP, but their substantial contributions didn’t stop at capturing damage photos. CAP set up a command area in Concord, New Hampshire to crowdsource and coordinate the ground endeavors of 6,000 volunteers. CAP members headed to locations where aircraft could not fly due to inclement weather conditions. They photographed affected locations, assisted with emergency shelters, and coordinated operations with the CAP National Operations Center at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama and FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C.

After its final Operation Pretty Picture flying sortie on December 15, 2012, CAP received accolades, praise, an award from the National Aeronautic Association, and formal thanks from Richard Serino, Deputy Administrator of FEMA.

New York State has more than 2,400 CAP cadet (ages 12-18) and adult members. Approximately 10% of the U.S. Air Force’s military academy classes are composed of current or former CAP cadets. According to John W. Desmarais, Sr., Director of Operations at CAP National Headquarters, membership offers “opportunities for people from all walks of life to volunteer and assist in their communities in a variety of ways.” Find more information on the Civil Air Patrol at on the ground photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

webPlus_web_green1 Videos of Northport Squadron and damage assessment

A documentary of Northport’s Leroy R. Grumman CAP squadron, and a video of crowdsourcing damage assessment after Hurricane Sandy.

By Connie Motz


is a freelance writer and former Certified Travel Consultant who’s been lucky enough to travel the waters of the Caribbean, Seine, and Nile. She makes her home in southern British Columbia, Canada.

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