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Asheville squadron participates in multi-agency event

C/CMSGT Reeves
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C/CMSGT Garrett Reeves was called upon to setup radio operations for the event after a senior member came down sick. (click image to view full size)
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Asheville Squadron representing CAP

3/30/2014––HOT SPRINGS, NC – A variety of emergency services agencies came together this past weekend to train in order to see how to work together as a team to save lives.

Members of the Madison County Emergency Management, Buncombe County Rescue, Civil Air Patrol, Spring Creek Volunteer Fire Department and the American Red Cross converged on the little town of Hot Springs to conduct the three day search and rescue exercise. Of the 33 participants, 25 were members of the Asheville Civil Air Patrol Squadron.

The exercise included a simulated airplane crash complete with an actual airplane fuselage borrowed from Buncombe County Emergency Management and placed in the Mill Ridge area with permission of the US Forest Service. The exercise also included missing members of the flight who pretended they were lost in the wooded area in need of help.

A mission base was set-up, with the help of the Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Department in their annex station. From there, the exercise command staff oversaw the ground teams and aircraft deployed for the mission. Two Civil Air Patrol aircraft based with the Asheville Civil Air Patrol Squadron at Asheville Regional Airport participated in the exercise where they were used to locate an emergency beacon carried, similar to ones carried in all aircraft, and provide communications in the rugged terrain of north Madison County.

Once the aircraft located the position of the signal, it was passed on to the ground crews who located the plane during the early morning hours of Saturday. At day break, ground teams and mission staff personnel were back at mission base getting much needed nutrients from food and beverages brought in by the American Red Cross and to get new search instructions.

During Saturday two ground teams were back on Mill Ridge looking for the two missing members of the flight along with a communication team assigned to a Civil Air Patrol van which relayed messages for the base in Hot Springs after communications aircraft had departed.

Both exercise subjects were found by ground teams, one Saturday afternoon and one later that night. The exercise was so realistic that a hiker on the Appalachian Trail who had come across one the victims joined in to help, even though the area had been clearly marked that a search and rescue exercise was being conducted.

By a rainy Sunday morning the weekend exercise was wrapping up and those leading it were calling it an outstanding success. “We came out here to see how well the different agencies could work together as a team and in communications and we found out where the wrinkles were, but for the most part we worked well together,” said Capt. Clint Parker, commander of the Asheville Civil Air Patrol who was the public information officer for the exercise.

Of the 33 people that took part in the exercise 23 were members of CAP including 10 from the air operations and 13 who were members of communications, ground team and incident command.

“This weekend was designed to be a challenge,” said Captain James Matthews of Civil Air Patrol, who along with Lieutenant Earl Tilton of Buncombe County Rescue Squad, helped plan and execute the exercise. “It was designed to test everyone’s skills, ability to be flexible and work together in a scenario that was as realistic as feasibly possible. Aside from the training value, this exercise was about building relationships for the agencies represented. Training together, working alongside each other goes a long way in building a solid working relationship when a real situation does occur.

“I think we learned a great deal about what we can do really well, and what we can do better, which is the whole point. The more we practice, whether we do exceptionally well or make a mistake, the result is the same: we learn what works and what doesn’t and adjust our response accordingly. When a real situation does occur, we are able to provide the best, most efficient and professional response to the public that we have to offer.”