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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

UNC Training Exercise Prepares First-responders for Emergency Rescues

A faculty member and several alumni of the Gillings School of Global Public Health were instrumental in a Vance County, NC training exercise to prepare emergency personnel for a water-rescue disaster.


[Photo: (Left to right) Mr. Gentry discusses strategy with Mr. Jim Groves, CPDM alumnus and exercise evaluator; briefs the National Guard helicopter crew; and offers instruction to the exercise participants. North Carolina’s new mobile command post is seen in the background of the first photograph.]

Mr. Bill Gentry, director of the Gillings School’s Community Preparedness and Disaster management (CPDM) program facilitated and evaluated the day-long exercise, which was held at a Vance County state park on August 8.

About 255 responders, evaluators, and observers took part in the exercise. Participants included first-responders from Vance County agencies and North Carolina government, as well as federal responders from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Mr. Gentry collaborated with responders in Vance County over a five-month period to prepare for the event, which employed four helicopters, 16 boats and NC’s new mobile command post. The command post is a quick-response emergency management, communications and scene support vehicle that can be utilized for search-and-rescue operations, major fires, chemical spills, storm-ravaged areas, major crimes, and tactical situations.

Among the CPDM alumni were Mr. Brian Short, director of emergency operations in Vance County; Mr. Steve Powers NC, emergency management branch manager for central North Carolina; and Mr. Jim Groves, who assisted Mr. Gentry with exercise evaluation.

The exercise allowed participants to practice communication and coordination between agencies, securing the scene, and providing public health and medical services. ‘Victims’ were rescued from the water, channeled through medical triage, and then re-deposited in the water so that rescuers could have multiple opportunities for search and rescue operations from the water and the air.

“Working with boats is a common event for this type of exercise,” Mr. Gentry said, “but working with three helicopters was quite a challenge. Literally and figuratively, there are a lot of moving parts to keep up with!”

The NC National Guard provided two helicopters, and the NC Highway Patrol provided another. Both the National Guard and Highway Patrol have trained, volunteer technicians who work with them to conduct search-and-rescue missions in the state.

Responders seemed to agree that the five hours out on the lake were challenging, but realistic.

“That’s why we conduct exercises such as these,” Mr. Short says, “so that our responders can build experiential knowledge. Hopefully, they won’t ever need to use it, but if they are called to the lake for this type of emergency, they will be prepared.”

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