What looked like a river rescue Friday morning on the Chattahoochee in downtown Columbus was a multi-agency drill being conducted with students from Fort Benning and local first responders.
The drill was part of a civil military affairs class at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a military school based at Fort Benning that trains personnel from Latin American allies, said Riley Land, deputy director of Columbus Emergency Management.
“We know that flooding can be a real problem in Latin America and South America,” Land said. “We simulated a flash flood that has wiped out a small town.”
It is a learning experience for all involved, Land said.
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“We allow them to come in and observe how we manage major disasters and emergencies, which is different than how they do,” Land said. “They can take away some of our ideas. And they come up with some pretty good ideas.”
The victims, EMS students, were staged on the two islands small islands between the final rapids on the Chattahoochee whitewater course. Rescue boats and rescue teams, with Columbus public safety personnel and WHINSEC students, would approach those appearing to be stranded. Once in the rescue boats, the victims were taken to a landing on the Alabama bank.
In addition to the river rescue, the students were using a drone to check the river for additional survivors.
The rescue was conducted in relatively high river-flow because of Thursday’s rains.
“That was unplanned,” Land said. “We had to go with what the weather gives us and we had some good rain last night. The river is up slightly, but it is certainly not dangerous or hazardous.”
This is the second time in recent years that the Columbus Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department has conducted a river rescue as part of the training with WINSEC. Last year, they did a woods rescue.
These joint exercises, which also involve the Columbus Police Department and the Columbus State University Police Department, are beneficial for the local first responders, Land said. More than 50 personnel, including the 29 WINSEC students, participated.
“We get a credit for a full-scale exercise, which we are required to have once a year by FEMA,” Land said. “We get an after-action report and we get to check our equipment, which doesn’t always get pulled out until its a real emergency. We will find out what’s working. ... And we get to practice one more time.”