GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Operation Vigilant Guard will prepare the National Guard and local emergency responders for when disaster strikes.
Military and local leaders are meeting to prepare for the large-scale hurricane drill this week, Cindy Grace, the Coordinator with Georgetown County Emergency Management explained.
While the county hosted a similar, smaller drill last year, this is the first time it will host Operation Vigilant Guard.
The event will kick off on March 7, wrapping up four days later. There will be multiple locations about Georgetown County utilized during the drill, including the Choppee Recreation Complex and the Georgetown County Airport.
According to Grace, the National Guard will have a mobile tower at the airport and will take over operations. They will have more enhanced equipment and capabilities than before.
The Emergency Management Division will have a center at the airport, as well. Grace said for the first time, the Carolinas HealthCare System will be present with Carolinas MED-1. It is a mobile hospital for disasters, hospital outages, and community and sporting events.
Grace explained the mobile medical unit will have a 1,000 square foot patient care center with two logistical support trailers, a laundry truck for medical personnel, and a maintenance vehicle.
She said the unit has been deployed for large-scale disasters such as post Hurricane Katrina and flooding in Indiana.
This will help the county build a relationship with the med unit, and be able to pull from that resource during natural disasters. It will have physicians, nurses and paramedics and will be able to help when local hospitals see a large surge in patients.
Operation Vigilant Guard will also use emergency responders from Midway Fire Rescue, Georgetown County and Georgetown city.
Similar to last year's smaller drill, there will be helicopters lifting patients up out of Pawleys Island Nature Park, along with search and rescue missions going on. There will be a drill to ferry equipment from place to place to train for situations where support vehicles are stranded.
Grace pointed out the airport will have damage assessment teams which will train for deployment to evaluate areas that are totally destroyed after a hurricane.
At the Choppee Complex, Grace said there will be Hazmat teams responding to a mass casualty event, along with a search and rescue mission through a large pile of rubble. Patients will then be transported to MED-1 at the airport.
There will be personnel from forestry, hospitals, and private businesses participating. While the details are limited to the public, organizers explain that is to keep emergency crews on their toes.
“If you release a schedule saying ‘on Monday, the river will flood and on Tuesday the bridge will give out,' it takes away from the realism of it,” said Jackie Broach, a spokesperson for Georgetown County.
Organizers said depending on weather conditions, there should be water rescues, but all water operations depend on the water temperature.
“During the drill, there will be a lot of ground and air traffic including Black Hawks, Chinooks, and Lacotas,” said Cindy Grace. A base camp will be established at the Choppee Complex.
While there will be outside agencies and representatives from five other states in town, additional services during the drill will be provided by local contractors. Grace pointed out this will help pump money back into the local economy.