Army Aviation

Nebraska Guard Conducts Emergency Exercise

Nebraska National Guard Soldiers and Airmen had the opportunity to participate in a joint emergency response exercise, involving multiple state agencies and community partners, Oct. 19, 2019, at two locations in Lancaster County.

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Kevin Meschede (right), Task Force One firefighter, and Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers return to Army Aviation Support Facility No. 1 in Lincoln, Nebraska after successfully extracting two simulated victims from nearby Stagecoach Lake using a hoist from a Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, and then transporting the patients to CHI Health Saint Elizabeth hospital during Operation Titan Fall, a domestic emergency response exercise, Oct. 19, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Operation Titan Fall was designed to test and improve emergency procedures and communication between the Nebraska National Guard, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and Nebraska Task Force One, as well as local civil authorities and first responders. (Nebraska National Guard photo by Spc. Lisa Crawford)

The Nebraska National Guard, along with Nebraska Task Force One, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies, civil authorities and local first responders used this event to practice their skills after examining the response to the spring’s flooding which caused significant damage around the state.

“Some of the capabilities that we’re able to collaborate and bring together from the lessons learned from the floods in the spring was Task Force One having the Swift Water Rescue capability, Nebraska Guard having the aviation hoist capability and bring that together to provide the best response for Nebraska,” said Col. Jan Behn, director of domestic operations for the Nebraska National Guard.

The exercise, Operation Titan Fall, was created to improve efficiency in air-to-ground communication and resource allocation during a simulated emergency water rescue at Stagecoach Lake near Hickman, Nebraska.
The Fire Chief of the Hickman Volunteer Fire Department, Justin Schack said communication is very important in what they do and that each rural fire department runs on a different radio frequency.
“Bringing in an outside entity, trying to talk to somebody new that they may not see or ever worked with…so trying to do communication with them is an extremely large obstacle,” Schack said.
With the city of Lincoln switching to a digital system from an analog system, it has caused issues with some of the rural fire departments.

“It just so happened that the Guard acquired some radio systems that can play with both so we facilitated our frequency to the Guard to program our frequency into their helicopters,” Schack said.
“That is how we are operating today through those new radio systems they got.”

Kevin Meschede, an Omaha Fire Fighter and member of Nebraska Task Force One was one of the divers who was lowered into the water to retrieve the simulated casualties out at the lake.
Mescede said hoists with the helicopters are fairly simple.

“The crew chief and I have hand signals, and down we go into the water… and when we get into the water, hopefully we land close enough to the victim and it’s not too far away,” Meschede said.
He added that Task Force One usually operates out of boats, but during the spring flooding, boats were unable to reach certain locations.
“Adding a helicopter component where we can be lowered down at a closer location is substantially easier than trying to get boats in some of those currents and waves and chunks of ice and whatnot that is in the water,” Meschede said.

After retrieval by helicopter – both Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopters were used for this exercise – the simulated casualties were transported to CHI Health Saint Elizabeth in Lincoln where the hospital staff would treat them for their simulated injuries.
To add greater pressure for testing the hospital’s capabilities, a dozen Nebraska Air National Guard trainees were also admitted to the hospital simultaneously with the delivery of the water rescue patients. The trainees – many of whom wore make-up and prosthetics representative of their assigned simulated wounds and injuries – role-played with cries and screams of pain as health care providers assessed their wounds, allowing officials to see how the hospital would respond when inundated by a mass-casualty incident.

“I was worried because I am terrible at acting, it’s probably why they missed the CAT scan on me,” said Gavin Peterson, a student flight member who will soon be working as a Nebraska Air National Guard aircrew flight equipment specialist. “But it was fun to see how they handle the situation and how they assess each person with immediacy, like who needs to go first and who can wait. It was pretty cool to just go through the process of what they would do in that situation.”

From assessing what care is needed for each patient coming in to the hospital to collaborating with first responders and the Nebraska National Guard, communication is key during an emergency.
“We really wanted to test our communication between the units and so far today we’ve had great communication,” said Stacy Cerio, an incident commander at the hospital.

This exercise allowed all agencies involved to practice communicating in a similar manner, which can be especially difficult with verbiage and jargon unique to each agency.

“It’s nice to work with the Guard and some of our other responders just to make sure that we’re on the same page,” said Jeff Gonzalez, director of respiratory therapy and incident commander at the Saint Elizabeth hospital. “A lot of times we’re just doing this in response to something we’ve identified in the past.”

Cerio said until first responders bring in the patients, they know very little of what has happened in the accident, which is why communication is so important.
The hospital’s goal was to not only work on communication between the agencies, but also to see how their employees and other hospitals in the region would respond.
“With this type of drill, we want to tax the system, try to figure out where our strong points are, where our weak points are, identify any shortcomings and of course, essentially the things we are doing well,” Gonzalez said.

He added that it also allowed their employees to know what to expect in situations like this.
The opportunity this type of joint mission provides was not lost on Sgt. Alec Rockford, a crew chief with Company G, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, who operated Meschede’s hoist during the training exercise.

“It’s good to get that experience and be prepared for whatever comes down,” Rockford said.