SMITHVILLE, Texas - The training scenario that took place along the Colorado River near Smithville, Wednesday, was a flash flood. It included multiple people playing the role of storm victims in need of rescue. The helicopter crews that responded to the cries for help were there to practice how to maneuver in crowded airspace.
The exercise was coordinated by DPS LT Cody Klaehn. “So we’re trying to establish that muscle memory with someone that you’re not used to flying close to you is flying right next to you so, you have the ability to act as you normally act when you’re flying,” said Klaehn.
Several different state and local agencies took part in this exercise. Air and boat teams from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, as well as the National Guard, were all present.
Throughout the day people were pulled, not just from the water, but from trees, a mission that was done quite often during Hurricane Harvey. Another lesson was learned from that storm: communication.
“Communication is usually the weakest link in any chain that’s why you see all these helicopters that are here today multiple agencies going out of their way to figure out a way to communicate with each other and be able to rescue the people when that time comes, ” said Klaehn.
The teams are also having to learn something new: how to rescue people during a viral outbreak. The COVID-19 protocol starts with dive teams making quick medical assessments. Those with the virus get a ride outside of the cabin.
“We try to mitigate the exposure of a COVID patient to the crew so the swimmer is obviously going to be contaminated. We will put that swimmer and that contaminated person into a designated dirty zone so we don’t contaminate any other aircraft, ” said Klaehn.
If a person with the virus gets into the helicopter, the plan is to pull that aircraft out of the regular rotation. It will then be used only for rescue missions involving people known to have the virus.
Crews will not wear contamination suits on missions because it’s been determined that fatigue sets in after about an hour and a half in those suits. That’s why the protocol will focus mainly on the people being rescued.
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