FLORENCE, S.C. – Lt. Chris Hawley of the Florence squadron of the Civil Air Patrol was serving as a small cog in a big machine looking for hurricane damage Friday afternoon.
Hawley was manning the communications desk inside the Florence Civil Air Patrol squadron’s building.
Hawley, who joined the Civil Air Patrol seven and a half years ago with his son, is the communications officer of the squadron. When the patrol is activated, he serves at the desk with radios and a computer — those in the plane take pictures which are transmitted via computer.
He and his son joined when the son was 14 years old and joined as a cadet. The son has since aged out but Hawley has stuck with it. During his time, Hawley has served as safety officer, squadron commander for two years, and now as communications officer.
Hawley said he stuck with the patrol because he enjoyed watching as “questionable” 13- or 14-year-olds start to become assertive and confident as a result of the patrol’s cadet program.
The activated Florence squadron was serving as a back-up base Friday morning to the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center in Lexington.
The Civil Air Patrol gets activated by various government agencies to help survey damage from hurricanes and other weather events. The patrol can also be activated by the highway patrol as well.
“Essentially, I’ve just been monitoring the radios,” Hawley said. “In case we have an aircraft that can’t reach them [the emergency operations center], I’m the intermediate.”
Hawley called himself a small cog in a big machine.
As of around 1 p.m. Friday, the patrol had three aircraft in the air to look for major damage inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.
Hawley said the patrol had divided the Palmetto State’s coast into three zones stretching from the border of Georgia up to the border of North Carolina.
So far, he said after looking at the computer, no major damage had been reported.
“But that may not be logged yet,” he added.
The situation after Dorian doesn’t compare to what happened after Hurricane Florence in 2018.
During that weather event, any aircraft flying along the Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, or Lynches River reported into the Florence base.
“We downloaded the information and passed it along to mission base in Lexington where they were able to get it right to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency],” Hawley said. “At one point in time, we had so much information coming to FEMA that they were like, ‘Slow down a little bit. We need to catch up.’”