• First responders from all over the world train for disasters at Georgia facility

    By: Craig Lucie


    PERRY, Ga. - First responders from around the world gathered at the new Guardian Centers in Perry, Ga., for one of the largest training exercises ever on the East Coast.

    Channel 2 Action News first showed you this first-of-its-kind training facility last May.

    Channel 2's Craig Lucie got a front-row seat to see the life-saving techniques being taught at the center.

    The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds, on average, to about 70 disasters in 56 countries every year.

    The federal agency partners with urban search and rescue teams from all over the country.  Lucie was with them as they were faced with real-life scenarios in a type of training they had never experienced before.

    Urban search and rescue teams had a 72-hour window to save trapped victims in several scenarios.  Firefighters, doctors and paramedics had to crawl through cars and on them to get to injured people.

    Blake Payne is the technical information specialist with Virginia Task Force One, the urban search and rescue team based in Fairfax, Virginia.

    Its most recent disaster was Hurricane Sandy. At Guardian Centers, the team faced a simulated bridge collapse.

    “As we encounter a victim, I log each victim in the app that we created,” Payne said.

    During the exercise, crews had to stabilize an SUV so they could remove a car pinned underneath and save a victim

    The teams had to cut wood and shore up the SUV so they didn't become victims themselves.

    “It’s something that we haven't seen before,” Payne told Lucie.

    Meanwhile canine specialists observed their dogs as they frantically searched each vehicle.

    “It’s extremely beneficial because the more you can expose them, the better they will be in a real-life situation,” said Heather Sloan, a canine specialist.

    The United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, partners with search and rescue teams from across the nation.

    They develop techniques and tactics to prepare for the next Japan earthquake, 9/11 or Boston bombing, and they improve their response times.

    “To be able to put that training in place versus a prop, it's invaluable,” Payne said.

    In one situation, an area was built to mimic the Oklahoma City bombing. As K-9s searched, every once in a while you could hear people shouting “Help! Help!”

    While that exercise was going on, another simulation was happening a few hundred yards away.

    The U.S. Army brought several Blackhawk helicopters for a training exercise that involved hoisting injured victims inside the Blackhawks.

    “It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to believe someone had the imagination to come up with such a place,” said a member of Virginia Task Force One.

    In another area at the facility, the Guardian Centers developers flooded a field with 5.5 million gallons of water to simulate the 9th Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

    There are eight flooded homes and actors were trapped with their pets on roofs.

    As their 72-hour window came to a close, many rescuers hadn’t slept for 36 hours straight. It's one more element to experience in a true disaster zone.

    “We can get sleep later, but this training, who knows when we will be able to get it again, aside from an actual incident that could occur somewhere in the world,” Payne said.

    Guardian Centers is a private facility completely funded by investors including Geoff Burkart of the metro Atlanta area. Burkart recently moved from Atlanta to Perry to be closer to the facility and came up with the idea after helping in the rescue operations during Hurricane Katrina.  Emergency teams pay to train at the facility and Guardian Centers constructs different scenarios for them to take on.

    Rescue teams brought enough food and equipment to be self-sufficient for at least seven days during their training trip.

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