Area Homeland security personnel test their mettle

It was only a test, but it was a very important test.

Members of the Civil Air Patrol spent Saturday in Douglas County assessing their abilities to react to a major emergency.

The scenario -- a collapse of an earthen dam that would result in heavy flooding -- was created by the United States Air Force to help civil emergency workers determine their strengths and to figure out ways they might improve their response.

Air Force personnel and the State Department of Emergency Services provided the civilians with a critique of the day's events.

Participants included nearly 60 members of the Nevada Wing Civil Air Patrol, Washoe County Jeep Squadron and Douglas County Search and Rescue. These people participated in various types of searches for missing persons, aircraft and strategically-placed electronic location transmitters.

There were 11 aircraft involved as well as an array of people on the ground traveling in vehicles and by foot, all coordinating their efforts. They also conducted reconnaissance and photography of power plants, power lines, railroads, dams and other critical infrastructure that might be threatened because of this type of simulated disaster.

"We were very pleased," said Capt. John "Jack" Clark, public information officer for the Civil Air Patrol, as the exercises were wrapping up mid-afternoon.

The Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. were a Homeland-type emergency. A natural or man-made disaster, such as a flood, fire or earthquake, also could likely require a response from the Civil Air Patrol.

Clark said a recent example of a high-profile emergency when the Civil Air Patrol would help was after the crash of a rescue helicopter on Thursday at Oregon's Mount Hood, where climbers had fallen into a crevasse earlier.

"This is the kind of thing the CAP does every day," he said."We learned as we were doing -- ways to refine and do it better."

The dam collapse and flood scenario, however, with its widespread destruction and potentially high loss of life, provided "more elements today to show what the CAP can do for Homeland defense," he said.

Minden-Tahoe Airport hosted the simulated Homeland Defense threat. These large-scale exercises occur once every two years and the last one in Nevada was in Las Vegas.

Civil Air Patrol members conduct regular training exercises, but the activities on Saturday were more challenging than normal, Clark said.

"We really don't know what's going to happen. We don't choreograph. It makes for a busy day," he said.

But if an emergency should arise and the help of the Civil Air Patrol is crucially needed, "we're ready," he emphasized.


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