Beaufort News

Drill helps National Guard, local emergency agencies hone their disaster-response skills

At first glance, the activity Tuesday at the northern foot of the Broad River Bridge suggested a disaster.

Camouflage and khaki-colored humvees and military vehicles packed the parking lot of the Broad River boat landing as medics from the S.C. National Guard tended to a pair of injured victims. Near the edge of the landing, a large machine purified water siphoned from the Broad River as guard members set up stations to distribute ice, fresh drinking water and ready-to-eat meals to disaster victims.

But there were no hungry or thirsty victims. The two injured men were guardsmen given imaginary symptoms to exhibit, and the "disaster" to which the National Guard and Beaufort County officials responded was just a drill.

The event was part of Coastal Watch 2011, an annual emergency-preparedness exercise to test the response of the S.C. National Guard and local law enforcement and emergency management agencies to a disaster such as a hurricane. The drill began Sunday and will end today, according to county officials.

Chuck Runnion, the operations officer for Beaufort County Emergency Management, said this is the second year the county has paired with the National Guard to stage the drill.

Runnion said the training helps ensure the county can help people in Beaufort County and surrounding areas if catastrophe strikes.

"You learn through training," Runnion said. "If we don't learn from our mistakes, we're going to repeat those mistakes during an actual emergency, and that's something we really don't want."

Maj. Adrian Priestler, National Guard spokesman, said the drill is as useful for the troops as it is for local authorities.

"We really want to become more efficient in our ability to assist the civilian personnel on the ground in a timely manner," Priestler said. "We want to be able to execute this without a lot of notice."