Working out the “uh ohs’ help Cal DART-Contra Costa for the ‘what ifs’

Working out the “uh ohs’ help Cal DART-Contra Costa for the ‘what ifs’

Working out the “uh ohs’ help Cal DART-Contra Costa for the ‘what ifs’
Pilot Josue Apodaca, of Vallejo, does a precheck of his aircraft before departing from Buchanan Field in Concord as part of the Cal – Disaster Airlift Response Team statewide exercise on May 13. (Photo by David Scholz)

State-wide exercise readies locals for future disasters.

CONCORD, CA (May 26, 2023) — Practice makes perfect.

So goes the old adage, and the crew of CalDART-Contra Costa hopes its participation in a recent statewide drill involving pilots, small airports, and even the readiness of some ham radio operators, has strengthened an existing network of human talent and resources for when the next natural disaster arises.

The May 13 drill involving Concord’s Buchanan Field and Byron Airport, happening in conjunction with a national exercise, took the action from a tabletop experience to the skies with pilots, flying from one airport to another, carrying papers containing lists of cargo being transported in cases when private aircraft would be needed to make actual airlifts to areas in need.

Such was the case in March when volunteers with the local chapter of Cal Disaster Airlift Response Team (CalDART) loaded a helicopter with supplies that were then ferried to communities in the San Bernadino Mountain for residents who became stranded by heavy snows.

Building relationships

Working out the “uh ohs’ help Cal DART-Contra Costa for the ‘what ifs’
CalDART Contra Costa head executive director Stephen Tucker, left, speaks with his fellow volunteers Brett Barlett and Rose Desmond in a war room set up at Buchanan Field in Concord for the statewide exercise involving 21 pilots and 63 airports. (Photo by David Scholz)

“Networking and building relationships,” said Steven Tucker, Cal DART – Contra Costa executive director, that’s what it’s all about. Another exercise may be scheduled in October for volunteers to further hone their skills.

Along with Bonny Simi, a pilot flying out of Byron, who also was assisting in the national drill, Vallejo resident and Cal DART volunteer Josue Apodaca flew from Buchanan Field on a 177-nautical mile route that included a first stop in Livermore before continuing onto Placerville, and then finally returning to Concord. Walnut Creek residents Jim and Dale Blodgett also participated, flying their aircraft based at Buchanan.

“It was good to be part of an important drill” and being able to contribute time and talents to it, said Apodaca who has been flying for a year.

During the day’s exercises, Contra Costa DART also welcomed, fed, and filled out required paperwork for a pair of participating pilots from the Sacramento and Palo Alto areas who landed at Buchanan while enroute to other destinations.

Community effort

“Growing up my dad told me whenever you meet someone ask them what they do and share what you do,” said Tucker. “Whenever you are needing something, you can call on them, and they can call on you.”

Concord resident Larry Loomer, who serves as the emergency coordinator for the Mt. Diablo Amateur Radio Club, was happy to contribute his skills to the day’s exercise.

“It’s good practice in public service,” he said.

As part of the drill, Loomer handled relaying a message to another ham radio operator based in Livermore where a pilot departing Buchanan Field was heading. The practice was done as a backup for a scenario should other means of communication and technology not be available in a natural disaster.

One never hopes it is needed, but “it’s good practice in case of emergencies,” Loomer continued.

A learning experience

The day also included participation from Contra Costa County VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) as Cal DART’s network of resources grew ever wider.

“We want to make sure people know about us,” Tucker said.

Learning what is working and what needs tweaking underscored the day. One suggestion offered by local volunteers was to use a white board to chart the progress of planes instead of having information written on small scrapes of paper and lists that require a magnifying class to read.

“We are all learning,” said Tucker. “It’s better do to it in an exercise when the need is not there.”

“We don’t want any uh ohs” when it really counts, he added.

Related story: Contra Costa team flies to the aid of snowed-in SoCal residents


David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.