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American Forces Press Service

'Hurricane Herb' Gives Florida Guard Disaster-Response Test

By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Special to American Forces Press Service

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., June 3, 2008 – Just days into the 2008 hurricane season, the Florida Department of Military Affairs and Florida National Guard are actively preparing in case a devastating storm strikes the state this year.

In cooperation with the State Emergency Response Team, members of the Department of Military Affairs and the Florida National Guard are participating in a statewide hurricane exercise that began yesterday and concludes June 5.

In the exercise scenario, a Category 3 hurricane -- “Hurricane Herb” -- made landfall the afternoon of June 1 near Cedar Key, on Florida’s west coast, and moved across the state and into Georgia. As in previous hurricanes, the storm tore through the state causing massive power outages and extensive flooding and affecting more than a half million Floridians.

In a real-life emergency, the National Guard would move equipment and forces as requested by state officials, but the Hurricane Herb exercise involves only simulated military emergency operations across the state coordinated from the Florida National Guard’s Joint Operations Center at the Robert Ensslin Armory, in St. Augustine.

“We test all of our different systems and make sure everything is in order,” Army Col. William Beiswenger, director of operations for the Florida National Guard, said yesterday. “This is being done throughout the state from the local first responders and local city levels, all the way up through the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. We also have participants from National Guard Bureau.”

Beiswenger noted that, although the past two hurricane seasons have been relatively uneventful for the Florida National Guard, the organization continues to prepare for the “worst-case scenarios” during training.

“We train as though we’re going to have the worst hurricane tomorrow,” he explained. “We’ve got to train that way. … We can’t be too complacent.”

The majority of yesterday’s activity at the Guard’s Joint Operations Center included reviewing operations plans and briefings on storm damage, and determining how the National Guard would deploy forces in an actual catastrophe.

During a briefing to the Operations Center staff, Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming, assistant adjutant general for the Florida Army National Guard, praised the exercise participants for their level of expertise in dealing with emergencies.

"We have a great team, between our uniformed personnel [and] civilians," the general said, noting that many in the room have been part of the National Guard’s emergency response in previous hurricane seasons.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the 2008 hurricane season could be slightly “above normal,” with a 60 to 70 percent chance of 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes -- Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

“Our citizens of Florida need to take heed to that, because all it takes is one storm to come in that folks aren’t prepared for, and we could have a lot of loss out there -- both people and infrastructure,” Beiswenger warned. “We’ve got to prepare for that worst-case scenario at all times.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa serves in Florida National Guard Public Affairs.)

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