MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. — Water, water everywhere — after a flood, what do you do? Cars, stop signs and buildings are barely noticeable amidst the floodwater, but it sets the perfect environment for water rescue training. The Muscatatuck Urban Training Center encompasses many training sites, and one of the sites is a small town flooded by water. The MUTC is part of training for Vibrant Response 13-2, in which approximately 5,700 soldiers and civilian first responders train on timely assistance during a catastrophic, domestic incident.
Vibrant Response is a major field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North (Fifth Army). Ohio Task Force 1, a volunteer urban search and rescue team through Federal Emergency Management Agency from Dayton, Ohio, trained at MUTC Aug. 15 to prepare for any national flooding incidents.
Task Force 1 is a fully deployable, civilian unit with immense capabilities for search and rescue missions. The training at MUTC is recognized as an elite training facility by the volunteers of TF1 and incorporates various scenarios they might encounter.
“This is the second time we’ve participated in this type of training. It is a phenomenal facility; we love coming here and doing ‘real-world’ scenarios,” said Jeffery Newman a task force leader from Cincinnati, Ohio with the Ohio Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team. “The training props that exist at this facility cannot be compared to any other facility because there is no other facility like Muscatatuck.”
“I’ve been on the Ohio FEMA team since 2007, and this is training we just don’t get anywhere else,” said Pam Bennett, a canine handler from Grafton, W. Va., with Ohio Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue team.
Training for “real world” situations is essential to the Ohio Task Force 1. The training scenarios stem from many of their deployments to actual national disasters.
“The training facility looks like the same type of environment we encountered during Hurricane Irene and Sandy just last year,” Newman said.
Newman added, “I’ve been on several real deployments, and it’s always nice to make training better — realistic.”
After the events of many natural disasters, FEMA prepared teams that can handle all types of situation.
Newman said, for the first time, FEMA has joined with the 28 specialty rescue teams to incorporate boat missions into normal operation. This type of training is new to FEMA and just started this year due to all of the hurricane and flooding responses.
FEMA has also recently added dog search and rescue teams to the list of capabilities to aide in the response of flooded environments.
“The dog water rescue capability is another tool in the toolbox, something else unique that we bring to the table,” said Newman. “They [the dogs] search for people that might be trapped inside of homes or other buildings by rising water; they’re able to pick up on human scent.”
“In 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, we didn’t have the dog capability and this training is essential to our future rescue efforts,” added Bennett as she calmly strokes the fur of her Labrador retriever named Ayla, a live, find, search and rescue dog.
The canines go through a stringent testing process with their handlers to be certified by FEMA. Once they certify, they operate as a team and recertify every three years, said Newman
Some of the dogs are owned by FEMA for rescue purposes; however Ayla truly is part of the family for her handler.
“I raised Ayla from a puppy, and I own her as well as her mom and aunt, who are also rescue dogs,” said Bennett. “I did train Ayla, but I can’t take sole credit because it takes a full team to complete all of the training necessary to certify a dog.”
Bennett continued as she looked at her dog lovingly, “It’s very fun and very rewarding to train an animal to do a job. Then, to watch your animal do it [the training] makes you feel like a proud parent.”
Training at MUTC is not just for people but canines as well. As the training for water search and rescue ramps up, an excited Ayla looks toward the boat knowing exactly what’s in store for her.
“Ayla is very excited to get on the boat,” said Bennett “She is shivering and wagging her tail out of pure excitement, and that emotion makes me happy.
Bennett said as she calmed the anxiously awaiting Ayla, “Ayla loves this job so much. The overall, training at Muscatatuck is just an awesome experience for both Ayla and I.”