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Pa. Guard aviation supports full-scale hurricane exercise

By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig | Pennsylvania National Guard | Aug. 22, 2019

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Operation Hurricane (Related Video)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania National Guard members joined with partners in the Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (PA-HART) and other civilian first responders in a full-scale exercise at Fort Hunter Park and the Susquehanna River Aug. 15.

The exercise, named Operation Hurricane, simulated the response to a hurricane with severe flooding affecting Central Pennsylvania.

PA-HART, a partnership among the Pennsylvania National Guard, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and certified civilian rescue technicians, is an aerial search and rescue team, able to assist citizens during disasters.

“We do full-scale exercises approximately four times per year, and throughout the year we also do small-scale iterations of domestic operations training that maintains our relationships with and proficiency of the civilian rescue technicians, and also the crew members who fly the aircraft and operate the hoists,” said Lt. Col. Michael Girvin, 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade executive officer and exercise officer-in-charge.

“It is very important for us to have proficiency when you’re hooking people up to lines that dangle from a helicopter,” he added.

The scenario started Aug. 7 with tracking of the simulated storm and going through the processes of coordinating the response among the many agencies based on prior experiences.

The culminating exercise began with Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers with the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (EAATS) and the 28th ECAB landed a CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in a field near where the civilian participants had assembled.

“Things went well today because we’ve had a partnership, we’ve built relationships and we’ve had the opportunity to work with Pennsylvania HART and the National Guard doing drills here, so when we bring everybody together, we’re verifying that what we’re doing is right,” said George Drees, helicopter rescue technician and strike team leader, incident commander.

When the boat teams and other participants were in place, the helicopters carried HART technicians out over the river to search for and rescue simulated victims by hoist into the helicopters or by communicating the location to a boat team.

“This is the result of our training that we have proficient and confident people who can execute the mission without making mistakes. This is a dangerous business and the only way to mitigate that risk is by training,” said Girvin.

The Pennsylvania National Guard is always ready to ensure the safety and security of all Pennsylvanians and to support our partners in state government.