Everyone needs a helping hand at one time or another.
This also applies to agencies on which the public depends in emergencies and natural disasters.
The region’s first responders gathered at the Appalachian Exhibition Center on Friday to assess the equipment and skills that various agencies might want to call on when needed.
The exercise brought together a variety of hazardous waste, rapid water rescue and related specialist emergency response teams from Carter, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.
Give a hand
When a disaster strikes, local counties often rely on mutual aid agreements to get the specialist assistance they need.
“Mutual aid agreements are very valuable,” said Jimmy Erwin, director of the Unicoi County Emergency Management Agency. “Not every county can buy equipment or find certified volunteers to respond to all emergencies. It’s fantastic that the counties of eastern Tennessee can work together and provide the resources that each one needs.
Jamie Miller, director of the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, said many of those resources were used in June in the search for a missing 5-year-old girl. In particular, the 1st District Incident Management Team has been deployed to help coordinate multi-agency efforts to locate Summer Wells.
“It took a bit of my work away from me and allowed us to better coordinate the research flow every day,” he said.
Authorities said this week that the investigation into the Hawkins County girl’s disappearance was still ongoing.
Learn to work together
Caleb Sick, a chief of operations at the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, said exercises like Friday’s first responders rally in Gray help promote cooperation and communication between agencies in the region.
“Exercises like these make it much easier for us to work and build camaraderie,” he said.
Johnson City firefighter Jonathan Royse is a member of the department’s whitewater rescue program. He said his team’s goal is to be ready to help “anytime and anywhere we are called”.
Because not all counties in the region have the resources and expertise to deal with rapid water rescues and flooding, he said it was important to have programs like the ones offered. by the Johnson City Fire Department and Washington County Emergency Medical Services.
“We’re more likely to be called when there are heavily flooded streets and people decide to walk through them,” Royse said.
Coordinate vital communications
Some of the resources that local first responders can call upon in a disaster come from the State Department of Homeland Security and the Tennessee National Guard.
Sgt. Samuel Gunnatser said the communications capabilities of the Tennessee Air National Guard joint incident site can be at the scene of a natural disaster within 72 hours. He said his unit provides internet, telephone and other telecommunication services remotely in areas devastated by natural or man-made emergencies.
This includes a mobile satellite uplink and equipment to provide site-to-site Wi-Fi services to recovery areas.
“We have the ability to cross radio bands to allow first responders who speak on different frequencies to communicate with each other,” Gunnatser said.
Friday’s exercise at the Appalachian Fairgrounds brought together emergency management officials from Carter, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington County, as well as firefighters from Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport.
Officials from the Bristol Rescue Team, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Johnson City / Washington County Emergency Management Services also attended the event.