GALVESTON – More than 330 people and 25 aircraft participated in the largest helicopter aviation search and rescue civilian-military training exercise in the U.S. last week in Galveston.
Coordinated by Texas A&M Task Force 1 (TX-TF1), the Texas Military Department (TMD), and the Texas Department of Public Safety, participants came from local, state, and federal agencies from six states and from a number of Reserve units to hone their rescue skills through day and night scenarios that replicate past water rescue situations responders have experienced.
Just days after the beginning of the 2019 Hurricane Season, and with memories of Hurricane Harvey still fresh, responders and volunteers gathered June 10-14 in Galveston for the Coastal Hurricane Aviation Evacuation and Search & Rescue Exercise, dubbed the 2019 AIR-X. Staged rescue missions in and around Galveston and Brazoria counties prepared responders for aerial rescues of survivors trapped by rising waters, using hoist, short haul or land-and-load techniques.
The goal is to provide an opportunity for state, federal and local Search and Rescue aviation units to work together so they are better prepared to respond together during future hurricanes or other wide-area natural disasters, said TX-TF1 Training Manager Stephen Bjune.
“They’re going through scenarios that we’ve been through in the past for the different hurricanes and emergencies around the state,” added TX-TF1 Operations Chief Chuck Jones.
Helicopter search and rescue teams (including pilots, search and rescue technicians, and rescue swimmers) flew multiple missions in UH-72 Lakotas, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and other aircraft to find volunteer “victims” needing to be rescued and evacuated to safety. Typically, helicopters may be used in flooding events to rescue survivors trapped on rooftops or in attics, flooded vehicles, trees or areas where boats or high-profile vehicles cannot reach them.
Twenty-nine volunteers were evacuated and airlifted to Corpus Christi on a TMD C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft in an exercise scenario designed to support Aeromedical Evacuation of patients. Training and coordination between U.S. Air Force Reserve units, TMD units, and civilian agencies are critical to have before real events happen, since they will be working together during a disaster to safely rescue and evacuate people, when time matters the most, said TX-TF1 Helicopter Search and Rescue Manager Brett Dixon.
The exercise was coordinated with the State Operations Center (SOC), and was designed to improve integration among partners, and demonstrate support for the Texas Aeromedical Evacuation (AE) system.
Participating Federal, State, and Military partners:
- Texas A&M Task Force 1
- Texas Military Department
- Texas Department of Public Safety
- U.S Army Reserve
- U.S. Air Force Reserve
- U.S. Coast Guard
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Federal Emergency Management Administration
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
- Galveston Fire Department and Emergency Management
- San Antonio Police and Fire Department
- Houston Police and Fire Department
- National Guard Units and Helicopter Search and Rescue Teams from: Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma, along with on-site observers from other search and rescue organizations.
About Texas A&M Task Force 1
TX-TF1 is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and has deployed over 160 times since 1997. The team can be activated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management or as one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 28 sanctioned urban search and rescue teams.