Md. National Guard holds exercise in Queen Anne
QUEEN ANNE — The Avian Flu had spread from Indonesia onto the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the World Health Organization raised the alert level and the governor directed the Maryland National Guard to assist the effort to contain the diesease. That was the scenario the National Guard and local agencies worked through during a full scale High Consequence Infectious Disease exercise on Saturday, Aug. 13.
Tasked with working through and refining its contingency plan for the Avian Flu with local authorities in the case of an actual outbreak, the Maryland National Guard tested its ability to work with various agencies in containing the outbreak and irritating the disease from the area.
Participating agencies of the full scale exercise included MEMA, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Queen Anne’s County Department of Emergency Services, Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department and members of the Maryland National Guard as well as the Maryland Army National Guard, the Maryland Air National Guard, the Maryland Defense Force and the Standing Joint Task Force.
The full-scale exercise was held at the Queen Anne Armory, 3011 Starr Road, known as the Col. Victor P. Gillespie Readiness Center, from Aug. 10-14. Every year the Maryland National Guard overviews a potential hazard and revisits its plans so in the event of an actual crisis all authorities are on the same page.
Col. Charles Kohler with the Maryland National Guard said the exercises are two-fold: to verify the authority’s plans and to reestablish connections with local agencies so the groups have familiarity with one another.
“In a situation like this it helps us to make sure that we understand each other, we’re able to speak each other’s languages and we’re able to communicate effectively,” Kohler said. “The main thing is that we’re able to respond to the citizens of Maryland and help saves lives and protect property.”
Kohler said when a local jurisdiction is “overwhelmed” or not capable of handling a situation, it looks to MEMA, the coordinating state agency. If the jurisdiction is unable to provide a certain capability, such as decontaminating their vehicles, Kohler said, it would ask MEMA for assistance. The agency may look to various counties to see if it has the ability to help and in the situation that it is unable and the governor declares a state of emergency, the Maryland National Guard steps in and aids. Kohler said the mission of the Maryland National Guard is to support first responders and to never be the lead agency.
In the scenario played out in Queen Anne, Kohler said troops with the Maryland National Guard were asked to “depopulate a flock” and to decontaminate any vehicles or equipment affected by the Avian Flu.
“We have different contingency plans based on different scenarios and each year we look at one of those particular scenarios and we try to identify any areas that need updating,” Kohler said.
In planning the exercise, Kohler said the Maryland National Guard approached the local jurisdictions and asked what would be a realistic situation that the guard would be called in for on the Eastern Shore. Having the exercise was important, he said, because it helped the planning of things like the logistics of moving troops around the state to respond to incidents. Other items tested in the scenario included using the communication equipment and messaging systems as well as familiarization of training on decontamination procedures and how to use the needed equipment.
“The biggest part of the exercise is getting to know each other’s capabilities, where [the Maryland National Guard] would fit in ... what types of missions we would be asked to perform,” Kohler said.