When disaster strikes, he organizes volunteers to help – in the air and on the ground

Col. R. Jason Bailey conducts a pre-flight check on an aircraft for the North Carolina wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
Col. R. Jason Bailey conducts a pre-flight check on an aircraft for the North Carolina wing of the Civil Air Patrol. Courtesy of NC Wing CAP

As the leader of the North Carolina wing of the Civil Air Patrol, Col. R. Jason Bailey organizes more than 1,700 volunteers statewide to help when natural disasters strike. A year ago, he went to Eastern North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Now he’s waiting for orders to help in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by a hurricane last month.

Q: The Civil Air Patrol was formed by Congress in 1941, and part of its role is to take photographs from the air after natural disasters. How does that work?

A: Across the country we have 550 planes. When we have these natural disasters, they need for us to come in and take (aerial) photos. It’s easy for us to do because we have those resources. Maybe I’ve got 16 planes in N.C., but I can reach out to Illinois or Florida or Virginia or Tennessee and pull 18 planes from another wing and have them come in and help us fly.

Q: How did you help when Hurricane Matthew hit?

A: We did 400 to 500 flight hours for Matthew, taking photos of bridges, dams and infrastructure. We had 444 members who were flying and providing points of distribution, handing out water bottles and tarps in local communities, putting in about 74,000 man hours. We had support from eight wings in three different regions; seven other states were supporting those efforts.

Q: How will you help in Puerto Rico?

A: We are working out the logistics of supporting the efforts down in Puerto Rico right now. Virginia and Maryland have aircraft that are ideal for this type of mission and have already deployed. We were called and requested to submit rosters of available personnel to relieve pilots, observers and airborne photographers. The personnel sent will serve for aerial photography flights for damage and infrastructure assessment. We tag photos and get those prepared for FEMA to review; that’s part of what we do.

Q: Can you fly residents out of Puerto Rico?

A: It’s not one of our mandated missions. The Air National Guard does that, and they’re very capable and good at it. During Matthew they were amazing, pulling people off of roofs and things like that.

Q: What are the biggest needs right now for areas devastated by hurricanes?

A: They just have to get back on their feet. There’s so much down in Puerto Rico and other places – from water systems to infrastructure problems. It’s a huge issue for them, and it’s going to be a while. For some of them, it will be years before things are rebuilt and they can continue with their lives as normal.

Q: What are the challenges of coordinating so many volunteers?

A: Aligning the tasks we have with the skills and the desires of the volunteers.

If you bring in a volunteer and ask him to help police clean up an area, if you have the wrong personality in there, they get frustrated because they’d rather be doing some other work. It’s also a challenge to coordinate all the assets we have, what’s closest, what’s most available.

Q: How did you get involved with the Civil Air Patrol?

A: When my daughter turned 14, she was looking for an activity that would help her with leadership skills. I couldn’t take her to Boy Scouts, which was my background, so we were looking for an alternative. I started meeting the cadets, and they just had this professionalism that really impressed me.

I’m a wing commander for the state now, but I’ve been involved for about seven years. I probably put in 85 to 100 hours a month.

Do you know someone who should be Tar Heel of the Week? Send nominations to tarheel@newsobserver.com.

Tar Heel of the Week: Col. R. Jason Bailey

Birthdate: July 3, 1969

Work: Avista Technologies

Resides: Mebane