Rio Grande Valley Air Evacuation Exercise
Hurricanes have brought damaging winds and severe flooding to the Rio Grande Valley in recent years. The challenge of these storms is being met as local communities step up to the plate, working with state and federal partners to improve their preparedness and evacuation plans, and training to put those plans into effect.
Earlier this summer, emergency management and law enforcement organizations from the Valley, state and federal levels came together June 10 to run through a full-scale air evacuation exercise stationed at the McAllen Miller International Airport. The exercise simulated the evacuation of citizens with functional and access needs due to a threat of a catastrophic hurricane making landfall in the Valley. The goal of the exercise was to track patients from the hospital to an air hub where they would board an airplane and be transported to receiving hospitals.
“This was the first time organizations from the city and county, the state and federal partners worked an exercise of this scale for this area,” TDEM District Coordinator Jorge Jalomo said. “Part of our goal in having players from all these levels was to allow us to come up with a more organized plan for our area, and a plan that can be utilized in other parts of the state as needed that are vulnerable to a hurricane strike.”
Exercise players included the Department of Defense (DOD), Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Military Forces, Texas Emergency Tracking Network, Incident Management Teams, the Valley Medical Operations Center, Hidalgo County, the City of McAllen, the McAllen Disaster District Chair (DDC), local hospitals and the National Weather Service in Brownsville.
Jalomo said the exercise allowed all of the players to run through the set up and activation of the McAllen DDC and Medical Evacuation Hub in the area. This included practice operating the Texas Emergency Tracking Network (ETN) systems to track live volunteers acting as patients evacuating. Click here to view photos from the exercise. Photos courtesy of Brandi Ashby-Fisher.
“The tracking of patients in the Valley will be accomplished by use of the ETN and will involve three of the four ETN partner systems (WebEOC, EvacCenter and EMTrack),” Lesia Dickson with Radiant RFID said. “This exercise allowed the three systems to be brought together in a real-life scenario. The experience of using the system will be invaluable to state, local and federal partners if the ETN must ever be activated in a disaster for this area.”
Dickson noted that many things were learned about the interworking of the various systems during the full-scale exercise that could not have been known otherwise.
“The Texas Military Forces was instrumental in bringing the planning together for this event,” said Dickson. “They operated the evacuation scanning equipment with proficiency and gained valuable best-practice knowledge for optimal set-up of the air hub. This knowledge will translate into more streamlined operations in an actual event.”
Exercise planning meetings began in early spring and allowed the players to understand the roles and responsibilities of other participants.
“I can never say enough about the Texas State Guard and how eagerly they embrace their role and strive for excellence in setting up and running the Texas Emergency Tracking Network,” said Dickson. “As always, they bring high energy, a positive attitude and a willingness to serve that is wonderful to be around.”
To that end, William Gross, Operations and Planning Officer with the Department of Defense, DCE Region 6, said the exercise allowed the DoD to get to know the Hidalgo County team and exercise its procedures for working with state, DDC, county and local officials.
“The exercise also gave the 433rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron a chance to work on their skills in a site not located on a military airfield,” Gross said. “We were able to exchange information on techniques and procedures for moving medical special needs populations by air. This exercise gave our team a sense that Texas had its techniques and procedures ready to go. We left McAllen with the sense that we could work with the Texas team to make this work.”