167th Airlift Wing participates in Vigilant Guard exercise
By Senior Airman Nathanial Taylor, 167AW/PA
/ Published May 20, 2016
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Members of the 167th Airlift Wing Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 167th Enroute Patient Staging System (ERPSS) team participated in a disaster response exercise at Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La., April 14-16.
The exercise, which was held in coordination with the nation-wide Vigilant Guard, was coordinated by the Department of Health and Hospitals for the State of Louisiana.
According to Capt. Keith Michael, the 167th ERPSS team chief, the exercise was geared toward increasing coordination and effectiveness during post-hurricane relief efforts.
"The exercise was [designed] to test out the state of Louisiana's hurricane response plan in the southern part of the state," Michael said. "It was [created] in response to what happened during hurricane Katrina. The state was charged by congress to come together with a response plan of how they would evacuate patients from what they call the 'lower bowl region' of the state."
ERPSS teams are designed as forward operating teams that act as a link between the Self Aide and Buddy Care portion of patient treatment and the Aeromedical extraction to care facilities. They oversee the coordination of the patient's movement to the aircraft and ensure they are stable enough to fly.
Michael and his 13 person team were put in charge of coordinating the staging of patients, preparing them for extraction and handing them off to the Aeromedical crews for evacuation.
"We were brought in as subject matter experts to stage the patients and load them up for evacuation," Michael said. "We had a location set up where the patients were brought to us for staging. Our actual job was to properly screen out the patients that were not medically prepared to fly, from those that could actually go on the flights, and to get them ready for air evacuation."
The scenario simulated what would happen following a major hurricane and how patients from hospitals would be transported once the hospital ran out of supplies or, as was the case during Katrina, levies broke in the area. To simulate this during the exercise, Army National Guard units would go into the 'high-water' areas, extract the patients from the hospitals and take them to the ERPSS staging area.
According to Michael, this year was the second time the 167th participated in the exercise.
"We participated in the first [iteration] of the exercise, this year was the second time they held the exercise," Michael said. "They made a lot of improvements to it this year, it was a lot bigger in size and scope."
For Michael, exercises of this type are beneficial for the wing, the state and the Airmen that participate in more than one way.
"As the wars in the Middle East draw down a little bit, Homeland Security and emergency response [are both] going to be key missions for us going forward," Michael said. "Getting hands-on training, not just talking through the training or going to a formal school, is invaluable. Being able to train on how to execute a state-to-state type of mission is also important."
According Senior Airman Austin McKinney, a 167th ERPSS team member and medical technician, the exercise was a great learning experience on how to work outside of the military mission and apply their training to a more civilian based mission.
"This was my first time doing an actual exercise," McKinney said. "I had training and experience doing the actual loading of patients but this time was my first time directing the traffic of patients. It was the first time that [our team] as a group have gotten to work together like that, we had great chemistry."
He added, "I absolutely think that it helped prepare us if a natural disaster were to happen state-side just because we would be working with so many other teams and civilian hospitals as opposed to just military units."