Photos and Story by Adam Einck
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division is the leading search and rescue (SAR) agency in Louisiana. Because of this role, LDWF agents have gained a great deal of SAR experience in both real world events and training exercises. The real world events have consisted of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and countless local flooding across the state.
Since there are usually a host of other government agencies involved in search and rescue missions during catastrophic storms, then training between agencies is necessary in order to test interoperability. One of these training exercises took place on March 31 at various locations: Bonnet Carre Spillway, St. Charles Parish, Hackberry High School, Cameron Parish and a point of distribution (POD) site in St. Bernard Parish. Different scenarios were exercised at each location to fit the threats that pose a danger to different parts of the state.
The training exercise was hosted by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) in partnership with the Louisiana National Guard (LANG) to test disaster response capabilities of several state, local and federal agencies. In addition to LDWF, GOHSEP and LANG, agency participation included Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Corrections, Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Transportation and Development and other local and federal emergency management agencies. As the 2012 hurricane season approaches, these agencies are evaluating their ability to respond and test their level of preparedness.
“Being complacent is never an option. Our level of preparedness is constantly being tested whether it’s through an actual event or a full scale exercise,” said GOHSEP Director Kevin Davis. “Exercises such as this one keeps everyone’s skills sharp. But more importantly, it identifies any gaps or deficiencies agencies may have.”
The LDWF Enforcement Division is naturally equipped with over 200 agents, vessels and trucks to go with a fleet of all-terrain vehicles (ATV). Agents also possess global positioning systems, night vision capabilities and radio communications. While most of these resources are a vital part of an LDWF agent’s everyday patrols in protecting Louisiana’s natural resources, they are also the exact kind of equipment needed for effective search and rescue missions during hurricane and flooding events.
LDWF agents also are trained in search and rescue as a part of their yearly in service training. Their search and rescue training consists of plotting search patterns on a map or GPS device, executing search patterns, recovering people from the water, transferring people from vessel to vessel and delivering people to high ground.
“Our agents are equipped with a great deal of the training and equipment needed to get people out of flooding conditions and onto dry ground,” said LDWF Lt. Col. Joseph Broussard. “However, during major storms, we need the participation of these other agencies to effectively carry out large scale search and rescue missions. The training we did in March ensures that everybody is on the same page and each agency knows their roles during a catastrophic storm.”
The mission included air, water and ground search and rescue operations. Other areas of training tested security, commodities distribution and interoperability communications.
LDWF’s main role in the training was to navigate by boat to a plot on a map where people were in need of rescue. Agents then transferred the people to a pre-determined collection point where further assistance in the way of first aid and transportation to a shelter was provided. Agents were also able to test their radio communications with other agencies participating in the exercise.
“Search and rescue agencies learned a lot after Hurricane Katrina about the importance of communications between agencies and the different roles each agency should have,” said Lt. Col. Broussard. “We know that the Enforcement Division’s main role is to go into remote areas by boat, ATV or truck to get people to dry land where they can be treated and taken to a shelter.”
Other aspects of the training exercise included sling load operations, floating bridge and ferry building displays, collection point transportation and shelter logistics.
“This exercise validates not just our hurricane exercise plan, but also an all-hazards approach, to make sure that it is coordinated well with the state’s emergency response plan,” LANG Brig. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis said. “We want to make sure our citizens know that we are prepared to respond to any emergency in order to protect them and their property.”
LDWF is the primary agency for search and rescue coordination under GOHSEP’s emergency response plan. Enforcement agents have decades of experience in boating safety enforcement, maritime patrol enforcement and SAR, and the division has responded to requests from other law enforcement agencies to provide maritime SAR training.