News: One purpose: to serve the people of Florida
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
CAMP BLANDING JOINT TRAINING CENTER – More than 250 emergency responders from multiple Florida agencies donned hard hats, hefted shovels and picks, and came together this week for a yearly exercise designed to keep citizens safe throughout the Sunshine State.
On March 8 the Florida National Guard hosted the third annual “Operation Integration” at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center; the focus of the day-long exercise was to integrate the emergency response skills of various agencies into a scenario simulating a large-scale natural disaster.
“This is all for one purpose: to serve the people of Florida,” said Capt. Gene Redding of the Florida National Guard.
Redding, and a team of soldiers and airmen from the Guard’s CERF-P (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package), worked side-by-side with other state and local emergency response experts during the “Operation Integration” scenario held at Camp Blanding’s urban disaster training area.
In the scenario, a series of tornadoes ripped through a major metropolitan area during rush hour, destroying several buildings and a chemical plant. Victims – portrayed by role-players from the Florida Youth ChalleNGe Academy – littered the rubble and were in desperate need of medical attention.
According to Redding, the scenario is realistic. “We have severe weather here in the state of Florida. Certainly the people that live in Florida are no strangers to that.”
Participants included Urban Search and Rescue task forces, hazardous materials experts and medical technicians from agencies including: Seminole County, Lake County, Clay County, St. Johns County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the State of Florida, and several local fire-rescue teams.
Redding said this year is slightly different than the past two similar exercises hosted by the Florida National Guard. He explained the National Guard is integrating more with local and state first responders as opposed to the active duty military teams they’ve worked with in the past.
“These are the people we are most likely to work with in the event of a disaster,” he added.