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'Operation Lily Pad' aims to save lives in hurricane

Jul 22, 2008
BY Sgt. Rebekah Malone

PINEVILLE, La. (Army News Service, July 22, 2008) - The Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted an exercise Sunday aimed at evacuating refugees in the event of a hurricane striking the state.

The exercise, named Operation Lily Pad, was a mock set-up of a personnel collection point, ran by A Troop, 2nd Battalion, 108th Cavalry and observed by the 256th IBCT's senior leadership. The intent of the exercise was to outline and check methods to safely transport civilian refugees to the designated safe holding area, and then take them to an evacuee center.

Col. Jonathan T. Ball, commander of the 256th IBCT, said "lily pads" are dry areas of land that might be surrounded by water. The sites have been pre-selected based on topographical analyst's recommendations and the flooding patterns of hurricane Katrina, he said. Sites include areas such as by-passes and bridges and high areas that have road access into and out of the area.

The sites are not intended to be a long-term holding area, officials said, explaining that the goal is to evacuate refugees within two to six hours of their arrival and get them out of the dangerous flood areas to a safer, more permanent center.

"This is a temporary site. We account for you, match dependants to the adults, track that you have privately owned vehicles, and get you on the first bird (helicopter) out of here," said Capt. Thomas Porter of Natchitoches, La., commander of the exercise.

Porter said that during Hurricane Katrina "you heard the horror story of the 5-year-old child in Georgia who couldn't find his mother who was in Houston for three months. We tried to develop a system to prevent that."

The 256th IBCT is prepared to run 20 to 30 Lily Pads in the event of a hurricane, each ran by 34 Soldiers.

"We have a much better plan than what we had before," said Ball. "Right now, all of our plans are based on real-world, real-life experiences."

"We identified several shortfalls in equipment and identified possible issues with the size of the lily pad in regards to landing helicopters," Ball said. "I think it was a good exercise."

The National Guard has participated in numerous hurricane exercises over the past several months in conjunction with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, Wildlife and Fisheries and numerous other agencies.

(Sgt. Rebekah Malone serves as a unit Public Affairs representative for the 225th Engineer Brigade.)

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