U.S. Army Capt. Mark Dutton from Anderson, S.C., a physician assistant with 351st Aviation Support Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard, checks for a pulse on a simulated victim at a point of distribution during Ardent Sentry exercise, Ridgeland, S.C., May
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The devastation of the Oklahoma tornado made South Carolina deputy adjutant general Les Eisner immediately wonder whether the South Carolina National Guard could handle a similar disaster here. "It makes you question whether you've done everything you can do to be prepared," he says.
His short answer: Yes. The National Guard trains throughout the year for situations like that. In fact, as the tornado hit Oklahoma, the SC National Guard was in the middle of one of the largest disaster training drills in the nation, called Operation Ardent Sentry.
In the training scenario, one hurricane has hit Florida from the Gulf Coast while another hit Savannah, Georgia. At the same time, there was a radiation leak at the Savannah River Site. More than 1,500 members of the SC National Guard are taking part in the drill.
If a tornado were to hit the state, Maj. Gen. Eisner says, "We have built a quick-reaction force that can bring to bear in the first hour or so, up to 8 hours, about 100 Guardsmen with varying skill sets that run from command and control to initial debris clearing kind of capabilities, up to about 700 people over a 36 hour period."
"We have the engineering assets that can identify and remove debris," he says. "As a matter of fact, during Ardent Sentry we practiced that with doing debris removal on top of crushed cars, in coordination with fire and first responders with jaws of life."
South Carolina Emergency Management Division interim director Kim Stenson says his agency monitors the weather 24 hours a day, and would coordinate the state's response to a natural disaster.
"We also have urban search-and-rescue teams at the state and regional level that we can deploy as well. And then we also have regional medical assistance teams that can also go down there and actually set up a very small, mini kind of hospital to be able to work with the casualties as they come in," he says.
Both men say they'll study the response to the Oklahoma tornado to look for any changes or improvements that need to be made to South Carolina's emergency plans.
But Stenson says, "I'd like to think that we're pretty prepared for something like this."