Coast Guard, dozens of local, state, federal response agencies hold mass rescue exercise

Guest post by PA2 Crystalynn Kneen, supervisor, Public Affairs Detachment Atlantic City, N.J.


SOUTH LUXEMBURG, Wis. - Petty Officer 3rd Class Shane Wagner and Seaman Grant Jansen, both crewmembers at Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and members of Brown County Sheriff's Department simulate rescuing victims at Red River County Park during a mass rescue operations preparedness exercise, Jan. 18, 2012. The exercise provided the participating agencies the opportunity to evaluate their response plans, capabilities and coordination in a simulated emergency situation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Crystalynn A. Kneen.

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For emergency management teams all over the country, preparing for search and rescue missions is critical to mission success. These teams need to be prepared for any situation at any time; quite literally, it’s a matter of life and death.

It was in the name of preparedness that brought more than two dozen emergency response agencies, including the Coast Guard, to Red River County Park in South Luxemburg, Wis., for a mass rescue operations exercise on Jan. 18.

The exercise was designed to provide all participating agencies the opportunity to evaluate their response plans, capabilities and coordination during an aviation-based mass rescue operation, transportation security incident and oil spill response scenario in a maritime, cold weather environment.

During the scenario, federal, state and local agencies came together to evaluate how prepared they were to respond to a commercial airliner, with 51 people aboard, that crash landed on ice covered Green Bay.

“Part of designing an exercise like this is to point out our shortcomings,”said Jeffrey Hieb, preparedness specialist at Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. “Running the exercise with multi-agencies shows us where we need improvements and what didn’t go right, so we can be better prepared if a real situation occurs.”

Once the exercise kicked off, local emergency management teams arrived at the scene and began to work together with specialized equipment to rescue simulated victims from the crash site.

“In an ice rescue like this, we have a small window to rescue all people due to conditions,” say Hieb. “The goal was to be able to account for all people in a certain amount of time, and that goal was met in a much shorter time than anticipated.”

This goal was met with the help of different agencies’ equipment, which included a new airboat from Brown County Sheriff’s Department and the Coast Guard’s Special Purpose Craft-Airboat crew from Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

The airboats used in the scenario are designed to rescue victims on icy terrain.

“During the exercise, our airboat crews demonstrated a very timely response,” said Chief Petty Officer Justin Longval, executive petty officer of Station Sturgeon Bay. “The strengths of our crew during the exercise included rapid deployment of airboat and risk assessments. Also, our crew identified possible unsafe ice and deployed a rescue team on foot to provide assistance to simulated victims.”

Brown County Sheriff’s Department’s airboat crew also deployed on foot with the Coast Guard assisting simulated victims.

Besides The Coast Guard and Brown County, the exercise included three volunteer fire departments, two other fire departments, county rescue teams as well as numerous other agencies from federal, state and local areas.

“Everyone was working together from the start,” said Hieb. “ The Coast Guard was just one resource in this entire scenario. Agencies from federal to state to local came together as one professional team.”

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