Tuesday, 16 April 2019 00:34

Millstone hosts search and rescue training exercise

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A group works on an operations plan during a search and rescue training exercise Friday night at Millstone 4-H Camp. A group works on an operations plan during a search and rescue training exercise Friday night at Millstone 4-H Camp. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ELLERBE — Two women spent the weekend in the woods around Millstone 4-H Camp waiting to be rescued.

They weren’t really in trouble.

Rather, they were mock victims in a search and rescue training operation, sponsored in part by Richmond County Emergency Services and Pineland Search and Rescue.

The event — which took six months of planning on the part of Deputy Emergency Director Bob Smith — included not only first responders from Richmond County, but those from Beaufort, Wake, Guilford and Pender counties. There was also a team from Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Charlie Williams, of Ellerbe-based Pineland SAR, helped facilitate the exercise — a dream of his for the past 20 years.

This is the second time such an exercise has been held at Millstone, a location Williams said is ideal. The first was held in 2017 and Williams hopes it will become the site for the annual training exercise for the central branch’s turn in the state’s rotation. (The branches are split between the eastern, central and western portions of the state.)

“We’re going to try to not only make it an annual event for the county and local folks around us, but make it a bigger state event because we have so much ground to work on here,” he said.

The exercise came about from teams wanting to get experience in two places: searching on the ground and managing the search from the incident command post.

An Army veteran, Williams was an instructor at Camp Mackall for the Special Forces qualifications course and used the same area from this weekend’s exercise, which covers roughly 24 square miles.

The scenario: Two state botanists are out surveying the regional flora and fauna (plants and wildlife) to study the impact of creating a national park on the biosphere. They fail to return on time and the search starts at their vehicle.

The first team found their tracks, determined a direction of travel and called in a canine unit.

Several crews were dispersed to various locations to perform a “hasty search” to look for signs along trails.

“Eventually, what we’re going to do is try to contain them to one spot,” he said.

If it was a real search, Williams said there would be vehicles stationed along the perimeter to make sure the victims don’t cross outside the search area.

While the “ground-pound” search teams were out in the woods, there were small teams working the “head shed” (command center) inside the 4-H Learning Center.

Those groups, including the incident management section and the operations section, worked on putting together the search teams and the assignments and areas to search for those teams. 

Williams said those positions aren’t just limited to those who can’t physically be out in the field.

“I encourage young guys to get in there and get some experience in that, as well as on the ground,” he said. 

It helps to be well versed in both.

“You’ll have a better thinking head about you when it comes to drawing up the missions because you’ve got experience to draw from,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here.”

The training event lasted from Friday afternoon until noon on Sunday.