When natural disaster strikes at home or abroad, America usually sends its military to aid in rescue and recovery. Engineers, search and rescue, and logistics specialists pour into the area to save as many people as quickly as possible.
Here are 17 photos that show what that’s like.
1. Troops are rushed to the area, usually via cargo aircraft.
2. In the crucial first hours, disaster survivors can be rescued from collapsed or flooded structures. Engineers carefully shore up crumbling buildings and cut through obstacles.
3. During hurricanes and tsunamis, there’s a good chance some survivors will have been swept to sea. Trained swimmers work to extract them.
4. Survivors are transported to safe areas in military aircraft and vehicles.
5. When possible, the Navy sends its hospital ships to the disaster zone. The USNS Mercy and USNS comfort are floating hospitals with capacity for 1,000 patients each.
6. Field hospitals are set up to receive and treat the injured or sick after the disaster.
7. As survivors are being evacuated to care facilities, equipment, food, and other necessities surge in.
8. If the local transportation network has been damaged, the U.S. military finds workarounds. Here, a group of Air Force combat controllers direct air traffic at Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there knocked out the control tower.
9. As supplies come in, they are moved overland to shelters and distribution centers.
10. Sometimes, engineers have to prevent additional damage from aftershocks or continuing flooding.
11. The engineers can operate 24-hours-a-day to get ahead of rising water.
12. Sandbags and materials can be dropped into place by helicopters, vehicles, or carried in by troops.
13. When helicopters are used, the crew chief directs the pilots in order to get the materials in the right spot.
14. Clearing roads allows for more vehicles to move supplies and evacuees.
15. If invited by local government officials, troops will help patrol disaster areas.
16. As the situation begins to stabilize, the military will assist with clean up as well. Eventually, they’ll be released back to their normal missions.