Md. Na­tional Guard holds ex­er­cise in Queen Anne

Record Observer - - News -

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.

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