Even after two weather delays, the Civil Air Patrol and Hall County EMS teamed up for a search and rescue training exercise Saturday morning at Wauka Mountain Elementary School.
The exercise was designed to strengthen communication tactics and skills between the two forces, as well as practice the proper techniques for the ground crew with a simulation of a plane crash.
“This will be an opportunity for Hall County’s first responders to practice and hone their skills in a simulated environment,” said David Kimbrell, director of Hall County’s Emergency Management Agency, in a press release. “Exercises like this one make our public safety personnel better prepared to handle an actual catastrophic event if one were to occur in our area.”
Though the crash was simulated, airplane parts scattered across the field at the elementary school were real.
“It’s good training for us, too,” First Lt. and Group 2 Public Affairs Officer Jack Marty said.
The training involved is usually that of a simulated crash site, but CAP also deals with missing persons who get lost in the woods or medical patients, such as those with Alzheimer’s, who cannot be found without their help.
In the event of a real crash, the ground team is first tasked with locating the crash site, using tools like a direction finder.
“(The direction finder) tells you the strength of the signal, and where it’s coming from,” Capt. Amy Auger said. “It also helps to triangulate.”
One person can hold the direction finder, while others try to pinpoint the location of the crash site and report exact longitude and latitude coordinates of the crash site in order to assist “the eyes in the sky” and first responders.
From above, a crew in a plane can assess the situation, take photographs of the crash site, assist the EMS workers to the area and help triangulate the location. The next step is finding any survivors.
“All we do is try and stop the bleeding. ... We give basic first aid and try to stabilize them,” Lt. Colonel Wayne Roshaven said. “If they are in some kind of danger, we try to remove them from that danger.”
Roshaven has been with the CAP since 1966, so he knows what he’s talking about and has extensive experience in the field.
If there are no survivors, the crew is on strict orders not to touch or destroy anything.
“In the state of Georgia, a plane crash is considered a crime scene,” Marty said.
The crew is also required to take photographs of the crash site on the ground.
A mock command room with three units was set up at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville to monitor the ground crew’s results.
The first unit, the radio command room, held multiple radios, which helped the ground teams, search aircraft and county fire truck crews find their location. The incident command room included the incident commander, an air boss, operations chief, planning chief, aircraft scheduling personnel and other related staff.
“The incident command system didn’t exist before 9/11,” Marty said.
Marty is himself a qualified aerial photographer, but for this simulation, he had a team at the airport. The aerial photography room was set up to process the images and data, like the coordinates, taken from the aircraft upon locating the targets.
“With the increase in aviation interest in this country, we are seeing more reasons to have exercises like these,” Marty said. “People treat planes like a car.”
When they aren’t conducting crash simulations for practice, the Civil Air Patrol also conducts “90 percent of inland search and rescue in the U.S. as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center,” according to a fact sheet on the organization. It also offers cadet programs and teaches aerospace education.