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Face of Defense: Military, Civilian Responders Provide Aid in Hermine’s Aftermath

By Army Maj. Colleen Krepstekies Florida National Guard

Sept. 6, 2016 — On the morning of Sept. 2, Florida launched military and civilian emergency response teams into action as Hurricane Hermine made landfall on the state’s western coast.

The response package included the Florida National Guard’s specialized Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERF-P, and the state’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 8, which was first on the ground to set up its mobile emergency operations center in Steinhatchee, on Florida’s Gulf Coast about 90 miles southeast of Tallahassee.

Extensive Flooding

“The flooding here is pretty extensive through the houses and the fact that it goes from Crystal River all the way up through the Panhandle area. So, there are a lot of people affected,” said Marion Fire Capt. Robert Graff, the task force’s commander, as the team began its initial search of the area early Sept. 2.

Graff’s team is one of eight prepositioned fire and rescue teams scattered throughout the state that make up the initial, jointly trained emergency response package for Florida’s western coast.

“We do a lot of training with the Florida National Guard through our organization and also the Florida State Fire College, so we communicate real well,” said Adam McCormick, a task force team member and safety officer. “They take their boat drivers and their equipment and some of our guys are integrated with CERF-P and the fire department.”

At the beginning of this mission responding to Hurricane Hermine’s damage, the rescue operations began gathering information to make an initial assessment.

“We’re trying to establish how big our search area currently is and then we have to put groups into the field,” Graff said. “We’ll go through and do hasty searches to begin with and then we’ll come back and do more thorough searches.”

Surveying Damage, Searching for People in Need

By early afternoon, members of Task Force 8 and the CERF-P began their survey of damaged structures and locating people in need.

“Everywhere they go, the GPS will show where they’ve been and it will populate a map so it will show where they have and have not been,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Morrow, CERF-P team leader. “It prevents duplication of effort and ensures we go to areas we haven’t gone to.”

As the team members conduct their search with a GPS, they mark what they find.

“If they rescue a victim, find a victim, if they find debris in the road or a flood area, they’ll mark it as a way point,” said Anthony Lucin, another member of the task force. “So, an overturned tank is here, then it’s marked with a coordinate. So we know the location and it’s marked.”

CERF-P teams are a fairly new asset, recognized by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2007 as a joint capability. Since only 17 states have these teams, only a small number of National Guardsmen receive the specialized and demanding CERF-P training.

“They do high-angle rope extractions, they do breaching and breaking with jackhammers, they do confined space rescue, and they do it all while wearing HAZMAT suits,” Morrow said.

Morrow, who has been leading this initiative since 2004, is one of only two full-time CERF-P soldiers in the Florida National Guard. The rest of the Guardsmen regularly conduct weekend training with their units on top of the additional three weeks CERF-P training.

Across both military and civilian emergency response teams, members agreed that they are well prepared to collectively do their mission and that the integrated training has been paramount to their success.

Distribution channels: Military