PERRY -- Emergency responders from across the country, including more than 200 New York City firefighters, are in Perry this week for disaster-response training.
Georgia search-and-rescue specialists have been training at the Guardian Centers since Monday, but Wednesday was the first day of multi-agency training. It will continue nonstop into Friday.
Gov. Nathan Deal arrived Wednesday to welcome the trainees and see some of the action, which focused on earthquake response.
The Guardian Centers is an 830-acre facility with a mock city, specifically designed for disaster training. It includes two city blocks of purpose-built demolished buildings to test rescuers’ abilities to pull victims out of rubble safely.
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New York Fire Department officials said they searched the country for the best place to hold the exercise, and the Guardian Centers stood out from other facilities.
“There are some that would like to think they are like this, but from all of the research that we have done, none of them compare to the amount of different scenarios that we can create in one location here,” said Jim Kane, incident commander with the department.
Ronald Spadafora, the department’s chief of fire prevention, said many fire departments from outside New York arrived to assist them in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. Because of that, the department likes training with other departments to learn how to communicate and work with them in the event of a mass disaster.
“We like to be familiar with fire departments throughout the country,” he said.
The exercise was funded through a Department of Homeland Security grant. Participants include members of Federal Emergency Management Agency task forces throughout the country that respond to disaster. The task forces are made up of members of different local emergency response agencies, so many cities across the nation are represented in the exercise.
In terms of the number of agencies involved, this is the largest exercise held yet at the 3-year-old facility in Perry.
Among those participating in the training Wednesday was James Gaboury, a San Diego firefighter attached to California Task Force 8. He was overseeing task force members as they worked with Georgia rescuers to find and pull victims out of one of the demolished buildings. They already had pulled out more than a dozen as he was speaking and were looking for more. Some of the victims were dummies, while others were real role-players. The rescuers did not know where the victims were and had to search the rubble for them.
One of their biggest challenges, he said, was learning how to reinforce weak parts of the building so they could rescue victims without further collapse.
“These are realistic scenarios that we can’t duplicate back home,” he said. “Working with other task forces, that has been invaluable.”
Jeff Battcher, spokesman for the Guardian Centers, said the facility is doing well financially. It regularly has exercises, he said, but most aren’t noticed because most clients request privacy. The facility is booked up for next year, he said, and many nations around the world are starting to visit it to consider it as a location for future exercises.
This week’s exercise includes about 500 emergency personnel and about 100 role players.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.