Spring and summer across Alaska bring the much-anticipated recreation and subsistence activities which are vital to our way of life, but the longer days and warmer temperatures also bring the risk of flooding and wildland fires. While we are accustomed to these seasonal threats, the impact is no less devastating to those who are affected. When these events do occur, the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is ready to provide a range of support and emergency assistance across the state.
Under the umbrella of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), the Alaska National Guard, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM), the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF), and Alaska Naval Militia work in lock step planning, coordinating and training year-round so they can respond when the safety and livelihood of our neighbors are threatened by these seasonal disasters.
Breakup along the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Koyukuk, Tanana, and other major rivers brings the threat of large ice jams that can cause flash flooding and ballistic ice conditions, threatening lives, homes, and critical infrastructure. The DMVA stands ready to provide early warning, rapid response, and agency coordination to the threat of ice jam and snowmelt flooding.
Each year, this team partners with riverine communities, regional agencies, and the National Weather Service’s Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center to conduct a program known as River Watch. River Watch teams include a local pilot with experience flying the rivers, an emergency management specialist, and a hydrologist. The team flies over major rivers “low and slow” to provide surveillance, reconnaissance, and early warning as the ice begins to break up and move downriver.
Should an ice jam form, River Watch teams provide flood warnings to communities above and below the jam so they can take the proper precautions. The DMVA, and DHS&EM in specific, partners with tribal health organizations like Tanana Chiefs Conference and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to facilitate evacuations and sheltering should the need arise.
The Alaska National Guard has helicopters and trained rescue and medevac crews ready to support the Alaska State Troopers if flooding events create the need for rescues or evacuations. This year from April 30 to May 12, the Alaska Army National Guard has a total of seven Black Hawk helicopters training across western Alaska, giving the River Watch team additional sets of eyes and rescue capabilities during this potentially volatile breakup season.
Once the snow and ice are gone, the threat of wildland fires and their impact to Alaskan communities cannot be overstated, as an average of more than one million acres are burned each year across the state.
The DMVA provides essential support to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, which is Alaska’s lead wildland fire suppression agency. This collaborative effort includes multiple state and federal agencies and is aggressively focused on detecting and containing fires that have the potential to impact homes or infrastructure.
The DMVA prepares for fire season every year and stands ready to support our firefighters with aerial firefighting capability via Alaska Army National Guard Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. We have the ability to rapidly mobilize Alaska National Guardsmen, Alaska State Defense Force, and Alaska Naval Militia personnel to support logistics, provide transportation and assist with traffic management. They are trained, equipped, and prepared to respond to breakup flooding or wildland fires, and many other emergencies. We strive continuously for interagency coordination between local, state and federal agencies. This is how we train, because this is how we must operate during an emergency if we are to respond quickly and effectively.
The men and women of the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, both military and civilian, take their responsibility to serve Alaskan communities seriously. Our mantra is Team Alaska – we are here to help Alaskans and our communities.
For those interested in serving and giving back to their community, I encourage them to check out the many opportunities across the DMVA. We are always looking for hard-working, value-driven Alaskans to join our team to serve and protect the people across the state.
Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Commissioner
Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard
Join me at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference
When I think of Alaska, two words immediately come to mind: innovation, and energy. Alaskans are by necessity often creative problem solvers, with a history of innovation deeply ingrained in our culture.
Our identity and our economy are deeply connected to our role as an energy exporter. Yet at the same time, we also are heavily reliant on energy to survive in an often cold, harsh climate. So, while we are a major energy exporter, we are also an energy importer.
For example, we are heavily reliant on imported fuel oil to provide heat and power to many of our far-flung communities. And that imported fuel is shipped over long distances, at costs tied to global markets over which we have little control.
That’s why geopolitical situations like the tragic war in Ukraine have a direct impact on a community like Noatak, where escalating global fuel prices have caused the most recent shipments to skyrocket to $14/gallon.
For these reasons, the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference coming up May 24-26 in Anchorage that’s being organized by Gov. Mike Dunleavy could not be happening at a more important time.
I applaud the administration for leading this conversation and bringing Alaskans together with experts from around the world to discuss topics ranging from renewable energy potential in Alaska, to micronuclear technology, to electric vehicles and to new forms of power generation and energy storage.
Alaska is examining an “all of the above” energy strategy.
Alaska has the potential to occupy a critical role in the current energy transition. We are centrally located in the Pacific region from a shipping and air logistics perspective. A good portion of shipping traffic in the North Pacific skirts Alaskan waters.
The Ted Stevens International Airport is one of the top five busiest cargo hubs in the world. While we have long sought markets for our natural gas, perhaps we could pivot to also meet international demand for lower carbon fuels such as blue and green hydrogen in the form of synthetic fuels like ammonia or methanol.
Rethinking our role as an energy exporting state within the context of a global energy transition to a net zero carbon economy gives us a chance to reinvent ourselves.
When it comes to domestic strategies for energy production and use, Alaska is also an accidental innovator. Alaska has never had an integrated electric grid. Instead, we rely on local microgrids to provide power to ALL Alaskans.
Even the Railbelt grid is just a series of independent but connected services areas, or microgrids. It turns out by not having access to the same infrastructure as everyone else, we’ve had to get really good at developing and maintaining local, distributed energy resources.
This necessity has translated into Alaska being a global leader in microgrid technologies, small resilient islands of power.
Today, Alaska leads the U.S. in total microgrid capacity with over 3,500 megawatts of installed capacity, with some microgrids continually operating for a century or more. Renewables have been integrated into these power systems to reduce ongoing fuel costs and to make them more resilient and sustainable. We’ve been learning about what works – and what doesn’t.
I’m excited about attending this conference. It provides a chance to learn, a chance to showcase our strengths and a chance to bring together thought leaders and ordinary Alaskans to think about our future as not only Alaskans, but collectively as global citizens.
In the end, only by sharing our successes – and failures – can we as a society tackle the pressing problems facing the world. Energy is intertwined with so many aspects of life. The war in Ukraine is just one example of how we are all interconnected, even if our power systems can be totally independent from a traditional grid.
It is time to think outside the box and continue with the pioneering spirit that has served the state so well and which has the capacity to shape the broader world of energy both at home, and abroad.
Gwen Holdmann, Director
Alaska Center for Energy and Power
University of Alaska Fairbanks