Federal, state & local agencies conduct joint training in St. Tammany/St. Landry Parishes
By 1st Sgt. Paul Meeker
241st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana National Guard joined federal, state and local partner agencies in the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness disaster training exercise, at Fontainebleau State Park in St. Tammany Parish and the Grand Prairie Rest Area in St. Landry Parish on Saturday, March 23.
This training exercise provided all partner agencies the opportunity to conduct joint all-hazards disaster response operations in a controlled environment in advance of the 2013 hurricane season.
“The National Guard is ready for this coming hurricane season. The exercise this week tests our [LANG’s] readiness to respond to any emergency. By working closely with all of our partner agencies at the state, federal and local levels, we’ve been able to stress our response plans to ensure that our systems, personnel and equipment are ready for Hurricane season,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the LANG. “Our citizens place great faith in all of us to do what we train to do… for our Guardsmen along with the other state and local emergency responders to be ready to protect them and their property in times of emergency.”
The featured training lanes included land and water search & rescue, helicopter medical evacuation, interoperability of communications systems, site security and commodities distribution.
Dexter Accardo, director St. Tammany Parish’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness described the value of joint emergency training exercises in multiple locations in the state.
“What you see here is a joint operation that shows the multi-levels of resources available to a community like St. Tammany Parish,” he said. “You get to know what everybody’s capabilities are and how you share resources as a team. For example, the Guard has a footprint on just about everything going on in every parish and throughout the state – you have people affiliated with all the state’s ESFs [Emergency Support Functions].
Perhaps the most visible and vital of the response training that occurred in both St. Tammany and St. Landry Parishes was the land and water search & rescue simulations performed by the LANG and the La. Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, the state’s lead agency for all search and rescue operations.
Lt. Col. Dallas Jones, Search & Rescue Coordinator for LANG’s State Aviation Command, described how the La. Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries uses the Guard’s aviation assets to exponentially enhance its critical mission.
“In the event of an emergency, we’ll assist Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries to initiate search and rescue operations using their boat crews and our UH-72 assets,” Jones said. “We bring a helicopter that is basically a communications package with eight different radios that talks to all the agencies that are doing search and rescue, in addition to providing real-time video footage to agents with hand-held receivers on the ground.”
This type of interagency cooperation requires hands-on training and rehearsal. According to St. Tammany Parish’s Accardo, the development of the kinds of relationships that build trust and reliability such as he’s experienced working with the LANG is crucial.
“Our relationship with the Guard is excellent because we work as one team. I believe I heard the TAG [Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general LANG] say in an earlier planning meeting that this is what it’s all about – showing how we all have the capabilities to work as one team in a crisis situation,” said Accardo.
An official observer from “big” Army, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gailes, Alabama Guardsman and commander, Contingency Command Post (Task Force 51), U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was impressed by the level of preparedness he observed in the LANG and its partner agencies.
“You all are the heavy lifters for your state, very skilled, very well resourced agency that can move in and take on almost any task that a state needs to serve their people,” said Gailes. “Louisiana’s got it … the ability of the National Guard to integrate with its partners both at the local level, the parish level here and at the state level. Everybody understands what the requirements are, what the capabilities are, and that everybody’s main concern, number one main priority – it’s not about money, it’s not about who does what – is serving our citizens.
Participating agencies included: Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, La. State Police, La. Dept of Agriculture & Forestry, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, La. Dept. of Child and Family Services, La. Dept. of Health and Hospitals, La. Dept. of Transportation and Development, La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries, La. Sheriff’s Association, Federal Emergency Management Administration, St. Landry Sheriff’s & Fire Departments, LSU Agriculture Center, St. Tammany Parish Animal Services, American Red Cross, St. Tammany & St. Landry Emergency Operation Centers and St. Tammany & St. Landry Parish Emergency Operations Centers