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SCANG practices hurricane response with local emergency management

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Stephen D. Hudson
  • 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The South Carolina Air National Guard performed a key role in a natural disaster, full-scale exercise conducted here by the S.C. Emergency Management Division, June 2-5. This annual, state-wide exercise tested the coordination and logistical capabilities of federal, state and local emergency agencies for the current hurricane season and next year's Vigilant Guard disaster-response exercise.

It's been 25 years since Hurricane Hugo made landfall as a Category 4 storm in September 1989, but in this coastal county the memories of that storm are still on the minds of the locals. With the 2014 hurricane season starting June 1, the South Carolina National Guard joined state and county agencies to prepare for the potential of another direct hit from a hurricane.

The exercise included a number of scenarios to test all of the participants. Hurricane Dean, a fictional Category 3 storm, struck Georgetown and caused destruction of bridges and roads. Residents on Pawley's Island were stranded, the local airport was inoperable and a local chemical company, 3V Inc., served as the backdrop for a chemical spill caused by the fictional hurricane.

"This exercise allowed the [South Carolina] Air National Guard to use our federal training and capabilities to support local, first responders in their disaster response efforts," said U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Lambe, director of operations for the SCANG.

Nearly 100 Airmen were involved during this four-day exercise consisted of many scenarios that tested the various support functions from the SCANG. These included specialists from security forces, communications, emergency operations, medical, air traffic control, force support, chaplain services, air operations and public affairs.

"This full-scale exercise was a fantastic opportunity for us to not only train and execute our mission, but also to work closely with our civilian counterparts to enhance collaboration and learning," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Walter Hummel, commander of the 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron and exercise installation commander.

A variety of aircraft were used during the exercise. SCANG F-16 fighter jets, from the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, utilized advanced optics which provided emergency managers and commanders on the ground a look at real-time damage assessments. North Carolina Air National Guard C-130 Hercules transport planes and CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the SC Army National Guard simulated the delivery of relief supplies and patient evacuations. The South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team and S.C. Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopters conducted search and rescue training which included aerial rescue of stranded civilians from Pawleys Island.

Overseeing all of these aviation movements was the job of the SCANG Air Operations Branch. During a disaster, like this hurricane scenario, the Air Operations Branch worked with different responding agencies to coordinate aviation assets, identify and resolve flight safety issues and prioritize aviation mission requests with potentially limited resources.

"Our job is to get help and resources to our citizens in need, when they need it," said Lambe.

A mobile air traffic control tower from the 245th ATCS deployed to the simulated inoperable Georgetown airport. For two days, Airmen of the 245th ATCS controlled the local airspace around Georgetown to support the various relief scenarios.

"This exercise provided an excellent training experience for our young controllers and maintenance specialists which tested our abilities to deploy, set-up and begin operations in an unfamiliar location," said Hummel. "The entire team performed very well and I'm confident that they can execute their mission no matter how challenging the conditions may be."

Various medical scenarios challenged the capabilities of the SCANG's 976 Medical Command and Control package, Public Health, Triage, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Decontamination Response teams during this Hurricane Dean exercise.

A unique chemical contamination scenario offered a realistic medical training opportunity. The Decontamination Response and Triage teams, which comprised of one flight doctor, a team chief and assistant, 2 Medical Command and Control personnel and ten Airmen from various units of the SCANG, were called into action. Many of the team members boarded a CH-47 Chinook from the SCARNG and were helicoptered from McEntire JNGB to the exercise assembly area in Georgetown. Upon their arrival, they were transported to nearby 3V Inc. and joined local first responders from the Georgetown County Fire/EMS.

Once called to the scene of the simulated chemical spill accident, the teams jumped into action and were fully functional within 20 minutes. After carefully washing and decontaminating nine patients, the on-scene SCANG medical professionals performed triage and initial care to the injured.

"It was amazing to witness first-hand the teamwork and expertise displayed by the SCANG medical response teams," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Merriman, deputy commander of the 169th Medical Group and bioenvironmental engineer. "The team practiced hard and the results of this exercise demonstrated their ability to be ready to provide a valuable service to our civilian first responders and community."

The exercise was a cooperative effort that included numerous support teams. SCANG Airmen worked side-by-side with their state and SCARNG counterparts in the State Emergency Operations Center as part of Emergency Support Function 19, Military Support ESF-19. Their function provided vital logistical, planning and operational support to all S.C. agencies that have key roles in disaster response. The Georgetown Emergency Operations Center and the SCEMD provided close coordination with civilian first response agencies that created realistic training scenarios and collaboration with military assets from the S.C. Army and Air National Guard. The N.C. ANG deployed its Mobile Emergency Operations Center that provided quick-response emergency management and communications support to local first responders.

Additionally, Airmen from the 169th Force Support Squadron provided hot meals and personnel accountability. The 169th Communications Flight deployed their Joint Incident Site Communications Capability to ensure robust communications for the entire exercise. Installation security was controlled by 169th Security Force defenders. The SCANG chaplain's corps administered their ministry of presence. Daily operations were closely coordinated from the McEntire Emergency Operations Center staff.

"All-in-all, I'm very pleased with the total team effort displayed by our civilian and National Guard professionals," said Lambe. "Only through practice can we be confident in our abilities to save lives and protect the public and their property prior to and following a natural or man-made disaster."