Coordinating agencies conduct joint training throughout state
By Staff Sgt. Denis B. Ricou, Public Affairs Office
NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana National Guard participated in the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness training exercises to test disaster response capabilities of multiple state, local and federal agencies at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse, Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish, and Westlake in Calcasieu Parish.
“Hurricane season is only two months away,” says GOHSEP Director Kevin Davis. “This exercise helps GOHSEP, the Louisiana National Guard and our other emergency partners focus on response to a tropical system or any other type of natural disaster the state may face.”
The exercise – which consisted of more than 1,500 Guardsmen, 400 civilian officials, 27 agencies, 70 boats, 80 vehicles and 7 aircraft – tested the LANG’s response plan to identify possible deficiencies and also to evaluate its ability to respond to multiple missions simultaneously.
“The Louisiana National Guard is prepared to respond to any natural disaster – anytime and anywhere in support of our civilian emergency responders,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the LANG. “This annual exercise tests just that by training and working closely with all of our partner agencies at the local, state and federal levels to ensure our response plans are successful and effective.
Our Guardsmen understand on a personal level the importance of training to ensure we are ready to protect what matters when tragedy strikes. They stand ready and able to save lives and protect property.”
The training showcased the LANG’s ability to respond quickly to any and all emergency situations by conducting simulated air, water, and ground search and rescue operations, which ensure that Soldiers are prepared to move and execute when disaster strikes. Although some of the training was similar in multiple areas of the state, each location participated in unique exercises.
At the Bonnet Carre Spillway, Soldiers and Airmen worked alongside local and state agencies to practice evacuating residents in case of an emergency. Emphasis was placed on training to evacuate pets and to keep them with their owners as much as possible.
The exercises were also key in providing Soldiers training on missions they may be unfamiliar with, such as search and rescue with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Pvt. Nathaniel Rogers, a plumber with the 1022d Engineer Company, said, “I learned how to operate the boat … how to get out there on the water and get the mission done to save lives.”
One of the most important components of any emergency response is the ability to communicate. Interoperability throughout agencies, as rehearsed today, allows responders to understand, assign and shift available assets to the places they are needed most.
Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said, “This gives us a hands-on view of what actually happens on the ground, so that we have much better sight in terms of what actually goes on. I’m always so impressed by the amount of time and energy they spend on even an exercise, to really make sure that there prepared.
“It really gives you a lot of confidence in our National Guard in terms of what they do for all of us in the event of a disaster,” said Kliebert.
In Westlake, La., members of the 225th Engineer Brigade, along with members of the United States Coast Guard, trained on ferrying operations with the Improved Ribbon Bridge which is capable of moving vehicles, equipment, personnel and supplies as needed.
The ability to work and train side by side with different agencies, as they would during a real emergency response effort, provides valuable experience for future unity of efforts.
“Seeing how [the LANG’s] crews interact with each other and putting their people onto our assets to see how we go about conducting our business … it’s definitely beneficial because in the event of a real-world disaster, we’re going to have to support each other,” said Chief Petty Officer Travis Huttor with the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Lake Charles, La.
At the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse, La., the training focused on aeromedical evacuations using National Guard and civilian personnel and assets to support patient processing and positioning in the event a major hurricane or other natural disaster. The 159th Fighter Wing conducted the training with the 167th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron from the West Virginia Air National Guard and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
“What we’re looking for is how do we work together to evacuate patients as safely and efficiently as possible. We are all learning together,” said Cynthia Davidson, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Region I Coordinator for Emergency Preparedness and Hospitals.
“I feel that it is important for us to train with our civilian counter-parts to make sure that we are all on the same page and that we are using our resources to the fullest extent,” says Senior Airman Kayla Goulas, a 159th Medical Group search and extraction medic.
Participating agencies included: Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry, Department of Corrections,
Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Health & Hospitals, Department of Transportation & Development and other local and federal emergency management agencies.