This is only a drill

Published 10:51 am Monday, March 26, 2012

A team of Northampton County emergency responders are shown participating in a mapping activity as part of last week’s training held in Jackson. Staff Photo by Amanda VanDerBroek

JACKSON — Northampton County emergency responders recently took part in a course that helped them sharpen their search and preparedness skills in case of natural and manmade disasters.

On Tuesday, 21 emergency responders gathered at the Faison Administrative Building for their first day of the Wide Area Search Course offered through the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). TEEX is a member of the Texas A&M University System and is known for its hands-on, customized training.

The course, offered through TEEX’s Urban Search & Rescue Program, is funded through FEMA and is offered free to agencies around the country.  In Northampton, the three day course was headed by TEEX Lead Instructor  Russ Napier, Training Manager and Search Team Manager Susann Brown and Instructor Silas Thorne.

“This class is designed to teach communities to respond to a disaster event within their community, especially the search aspect of it,” Brown said.

The topics taught in the course include preparedness, search management and planning, mapping, search strategies and skills, communication and team management.

“It’s a three day class and in it they learn search management principles, actual search skills so that they can improve their search capability, but also very quickly teach others in the community to search if there is an event here that you have to go through all the neighborhoods and see if anyone is missing,” Brown said.

The emergency responders participating in the course ranged from EMS volunteers to firefighters to law enforcement to emergency management.

“We like to have a wide variety of responders in the class, and in this class we have EMS, law enforcement and fire department,” Brown said. “That’s fairly typical, sometimes we’ll have other responders, we like that range because those are the people that would be responding to an event.”

In Tuesday’s class the participants worked on their mapping skills in a search management scenario using a map and aerial and satellite images of Greenville, KS, which was devastated by an EF5 tornado in 2007. On Wednesday they worked on their search skills.

“We’ll utilize this facility (Faison Administrative Building), the facility across the street (the Cultural and Wellness Center) and do some actual search scenarios,” said Brown.

Thorne noted how the course is relevant to Northampton County and North Carolina.

“We present this course throughout the country and the territories also,” he said. “I think North Carolina being the second most visited state by tropical storms and hurricanes, it’s natural (that local responders learn this).”

The husband and wife team of Anna and Kelvin Gee of Jackson helped bring the course to Northampton and encouraged different emergency responders to sign up.

Anna is an employee at the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office and a volunteer for the Seaboard and Lasker fire departments. Kelvin is a firefighter for Seaboard and Lasker fire departments as well.

“We’re a rural area here in the county and we thought (the county) would benefit from having a search team,” she said. “We are a large county and we all operate different, individual (emergency agencies) and we’re hoping to get all of them work together and coordinate a team in case we have a large natural disaster and have lots of people missing we’d be able to find them easily.”

“We do have different disasters,” said Kelvin. “And sometimes it’s best to try to have a set up in your own county.”

Napier said the experience teaching the Northampton responders will help them improve on the class.

“Each class gives us a little jam of information that we add to the class to improve it and make sure that we’re very much cutting edge when it comes to the search information and technology piece,” he said.