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5/20/2006

Helicopter fleet 'rescues' hurricane 'victims' in ACY drill

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – State, federal, county and private-sector agencies today conducted a full-scale exercise designed to test their ability to jointly conduct a massive emergency rescue effort, in case a hurricane or other disaster strikes New Jersey.

The exercise was coordinated by the State Exercise Support Team, which is part of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness, headed by Director Richard L. Cañas, and was created by State Police Captain Rick Arroyo at the request of Colonel Rick Fuentes, who heads the State Office of Emergency Management.

The exercise, based at Atlantic City International Airport’s Emergency Operations Center, which is part of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, involved approximately 10 helicopters deployed by the New Jersey Army National Guard, New Jersey State Police, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council. The Council is a group of businesses that have agreed to volunteer their helicopters and pilots for emergency response efforts, such as the transport of doctors or medical supplies to disaster-affected areas.

The helicopters flew from the Airport in Egg Harbor Township to three locations in Cape May Court House, Cape May County, to transport volunteers portraying emergency victims and rescue personnel. The fictional exercise scenario assumed that a hurricane had struck Cape May County, but certain residents refused to follow evacuation orders before the storm made landfall – and now had to be rescued and attended to by medical personnel.

In total, the massive exercise involved about 100 personnel from Atlantic City International Airport, Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management, Burdette-Tomlin Memorial Hospital, Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, Eastern Region Helicopter Council, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), New Jersey Army National Guard, New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Transit, South Jersey Transportation Authority, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Homeland Security & Preparedness Director Cañas said, “New Jersey’s security and preparedness depend on partnerships that unite the public and private sectors, and all levels of government. With this exercise we are testing and enhancing our ability to work together during a real emergency.”

Capt. Rick Arroyo of New Jersey State Police said, “The lessons we learned first hand in post-Katrina New Orleans led us to test our response to a New Jersey hurricane event. Our partnerships are strong, but running an exercise like this always exposes weaknesses that could have disastrous results. It’s better to find and correct those problems now than in the middle of a real disaster.”

Lieutenant Zac Mathews, Public Affairs Officer for Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, said, “Recent experience has shown the rescue procedures followed by the U. S. Coast Guard during events such as this can make a tremendous difference in minimizing injury and preventing loss of life. This exercise will foster a safe, orderly, and efficient response in the event of a real hurricane or similar disaster.”

Colonel Jorge Martinez, State Army Aviation Officer, New Jersey Army National Guard, said, “This exercise is another step in the ongoing cooperation between the New Jersey State Police, the State Office of Emergency Management and the New Jersey Army National Guard to better support the Governor and protect our state and nation during times of emergency.”

George Pisa, Helicopter Emergency Response Coordinator for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said, “The members of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council feel a responsibility to give back to communities. By making their aircraft available in times of disaster, they are providing a valuable resource to rescue and recovery efforts.”

Exercise Parameters

The five-hour exercise began at 9 a.m. and tested the ability of the various agencies to communicate with each other during a massive rescue operation. In particular, it tested the ability of helicopter pilots from so many diverse agencies to communicate via radio with each other and with ground control.

The operation also served as a test run for the ACU-1000 Intelligent Interconnect System and the REMS (Regional Emergency Medical System), which allows for coordinated communications over different radio systems.

New Jersey Army National Guard personnel demonstrated their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter's ability to “sling load,” or lift and carry in a sling, nearly 1,200 gallons of water for emergency relief efforts.

In addition, U.S. Coast Guard personnel were able to demonstrate their HH-65C Dolphin helicopter’s ability to lift stranded persons to safety, using a hydraulic hoist with a 245-foot cable with 600 pound carrying capacity.

Today’s drill was designed to test the agencies’ capability to work together, and find any areas that need improvement. The exercise activities were monitored by representatives from all of the participating agencies. Their report will provide a list of follow-up actions to address any such needs and perfect their coordination.

Jeffrey Andrews, Administrative Director of Support Services at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital, said, “This drill provides Burdette Tomlin with an excellent opportunity to test our emergency preparedness. This drill examines our evacuation plan and our ability to move patients quickly. Most of our previous drills have tested our ability to handle a sudden influx of patients.”

South Jersey Transportation Authority Chairman Frank Spencer said, “The assets of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, including Atlantic City International Airport, are ready to play an important part of any disaster response affecting the residents of southern New Jersey. Partnerships such as today’s exercise are vitally important, especially with the hurricane season approaching and the lessons of Katrina fresh in our minds.”

Hurricane Season Reminder:

Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30. The peak potential for hurricane or tropical storm activity in New Jersey runs from mid-August through the end of October.

Individuals who wish to learn how to protect their families, homes and businesses during Hurricane Season and throughout the year will find easy-to-use instructions at www.ready.nj.gov, the website of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM). The Three Steps to Safety are: “Get a Kit” of emergency supplies; “Make a Plan” of what you and your family will do during an emergency; and “Stay Informed” of possible threats.

Today’s Helicopters:

The aircraft used in today’s exercise include:

• New Jersey Army National Guard:
o One UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter
o Two OH-58 helicopters

• New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit:
o Two S-76B Sikorsky helicopters

• U.S. Coast Guard:
o One HH-65C Dolphin helicopter

• Eastern Region Helicopter Council:
o The number and types of aircraft deployed by the Council will be available at the event.

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