Sounds of moans, groans and shouts for help greeted the crowd as they walked to the Carolinas MED-1 medical field hospital. As the wounded were moved from a van to MED-1, the group could see glass shards lodged in arms, legs gashed with deep, jagged cuts and faces contorted with pain. The moans were met with soothing reassurances of support and promises of quick relief by first responders.
While this paints the picture of a tragic accident, fortunately it was only one of the exercises in the weeklong drill called Operation Vigilant Guard. Operation Vigilant Guard is a series of statewide disaster-response drills that are conducted by the South Carolina National Guard. This particular Vigilant Guard exercise went through every action and motion that would take place should a category 4 hurricane hit the Lowcountry. The exercise consisted of 5,000 first responders, local, state and federal agencies, and 2,000 South Carolina Military Department members. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District can be tasked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist should disaster strike, it’s critical that District employees attended the training so they could learn and prepare for response procedures.
“Drills, like Operation Vigilant Guard, are necessary to prepare for disaster responses,” said Maj. Nathan Molica, deputy district commander. “You don’t want to wait for an event to happen to figure out how to respond; being proactive is paramount for disaster response.”
The morning started out with a briefing about “Hurricane Zephyr,” the damage done to the area and responses coordinated to assist with recovery. After the briefing, the tour group moved to MED-1, which was set up at the Georgetown Airport Airfield. MED-1 is a mobile 1,000- square-foot patient care hospital that is designed, equipped and staffed to manage minor injuries and wounds to operative trauma surgery and intensive medical care. The hospital can be set up and ready to treat patients within 45 minutes of arriving on the scene.
From there, the group was moved to the Choppee Recreation Complex, which was bustling with action. First responders were pulling mannequins out of rubble while military personnel were constructing temporary structures. The complex consists of several empty buildings, including an elementary school, that Georgetown County plans to demolish. To add to the authenticity of the exercise, the SCARNG received permission to blow-up a portion of the school. This provided an opportunity for first responders to mimic a search and rescue mission, where they were tasked with successfully rescuing 10 mannequins from the debris.
The most exciting and final exercise was a search and rescue for “victims” stranded on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Military rescuers propelled down from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter where they quickly harnessed the victims to themselves and were lifted back to the helicopter.
Because of Operation Vigilant Guard, the Charleston District and the state of South Carolina are vigilantly prepared for any disaster that should strike the Lowcountry.