US agencies collaborate on disaster response training

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Members of the Florida National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) prepare for missions in response to Hurricane Michael at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Starke, Florida on Oct. 9, 2018. Photo courtesy of Florida National Guard

Personnel from various civilian agencies across the US – from Duval to Palm Beach Counties – have come together with members of the Florida National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) to complete a search and rescue exercise (SAREX) that will fine-tune response efforts ready for the next large-scale disaster.

After completing a swim test, the soldiers and airmen of CERFP, along with the civilian personnel, attended Camp Blanding Joint Training Center where they undertook a wide-area search, structure collapse search practice and maritime rescue. The lessons that the personnel take away from this are invaluable in emergency disaster situations. Take Hurricane Irma, for example, where, thanks to the critical tools that personnel had been able to practice beforehand, aviation assets were able to perform reconnaissance of devastated areas immediately to ensure the teams reached the most critical locations first – a feat that would have taken three days with the CERFP’s land and amphibious vessels took just three hours Sergeant 1st Class Chuck Morrow explained.

Furthermore, real-life experiences and missions are just as educational – operations can be adapted to avoid mistakes made in the past; Hurricane Michael ripped through parts of the Panhandle and consequently destroyed nearly all communications between the agencies. As such, this year’s SAREX focuses heavily on communications: communications teams are integrating with CERFP to produce an asset that better supports the citizens of Florida.

“The Florida National Guard has taken great strides in having the ability to come to your aid as soon as possible and get you and your family out of harm’s way, as quickly as possible,” said Morrow. “We have just as much, if not more, capabilities than our first responders to tell the state of Florida, sit tight, we’re coming quickly. Much more so than any other state.” 

US Army Colonel Michael Ladd also praised the SAREX programme: “The application of this CERFP asset into hurricane response and maritime search and rescue, into fatality search and recovery, into tactical emergency communications … we just don’t get to exercise it that much, so this relationship provides the ability to sharpen that sword that’s sitting dormant on a shelf,” he said. “When we have to pull it out, when we have to break that glass, they’re ready for primetime, and all of those relationships they have with first responders are well rehearsed and they know each other.”

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