Rowan Rescue, other agencies conduct White Road mock search drill
By Shavonne Walker
MOUNT ULLA — Early Saturday morning confused passersby no doubt were trying their hardest to figure out what emergency situation was playing out at a farm on White Road.
There was an emergency — three teens had attended a party the night before and were lost in the woods. However, the emergency was merely a mock drill.
The property belongs to Bobby and Rhonda Harrison, who offered their home, acreage and themselves as part of the drill so emergency personnel could conduct a land search.
Organizers of the mock drill — the Rowan County Rescue Squad and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office — began preparations months ago with a chosen location, 445 White Road, and created a scenario. Organizers obtained more than 50 volunteers, all of whom were local emergency responders and law enforcement.
“It’s an annual event that Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Rowan County Rescue had started doing a couple of years ago. The main objective is to conduct a land search and to go through the whole process,” said Rowan Rescue Squad Chief Eddie Cress.
Cress said the purpose is to use multiple agencies, several volunteers, different locations and different scenarios each year so that personnel can get practice using their skills in as real a situation as possible.
Just four days before the mock drill, the Rowan Rescue Squad, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Liberty Fire conducted a real-life search for an elderly man with Alzheimer’s whose family reported him missing.
The family searched for the victim on their own, but after an hour had not located him. The rescuers conducted a ground search, looking in the immediate area near the family’s home. Rescue personnel used a thermal imaging camera and within 30 minutes located the man, Cress said.
The training, he said, involved the same techniques rescuers used in the real search for the missing man.
The scenario was that three teens had a party Friday night, one of whom had diabetes that had been exacerbated by the alcohol, and all were lost in the woods. They left after midnight and had not been seen since.
Cress further explained that the teens in the scenario had an argument and each male left the home headed in different directions.
“When mom got up this morning at 7:45 a.m. the boys were not home. She called 911 in a panic,” he said, describing the exercise.
Rowan County sheriff’s officers were sent to the scene regarding three missing juveniles. Uniformed deputies who were volunteering went to the location to interview the mother and a witness. Following the interview, investigators decided a land search was necessary and requested the Rowan County Rescue Squad.
“We do all the land searches in the county,” Cress said.
Cress said Locke Fire Department was also involved in the training exercise, as were K-9s from Rockwell and China Grove Police departments.
“The K-9s got on the ground looking for an air scent track or any clues that would lead them in the direction to where juveniles went,” Cress said.
He said rescue crews conducted what is called a hasty search where they fan out and search the immediate area. In some cases the victims double back, he said.
The victims in the exercise were wearing blue jeans and T-shirts. The victims were actually a Concord Police officer, Salisbury firefighter and a lieutenant with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
The search area included 800 acres from behind the White Road property, extending just beyond a creek behind it, as well as G Goodnight Road and Lilac Lane.
During a hasty search, emergency personnel look in abandoned buildings, cars, under brush and in barns.
Cress said the hasty search can include any place that someone could potentially duck into to fall asleep or keep warm.
The hasty search can be as big or as small as deemed necessary, he said.
Since the juveniles went in three different directions, the ground search then became an air search as well. The N.C. Highway Patrol flew over the 800 acres to determine whether the pilot could spot the victims.
The diabetic juvenile in the mock drill was found on G Goodnight Road. He had fallen and broken his leg, so rescuers used an Argo all-terrain vehicle to get him out of the woods.
Shortly after he was found, the other “victims” were rescued near Lilac Lane.
The injured teen was found via helicopter while the others were found by two K-9s on the ground.
The whole scenario took two hours, Cress said.
Cress said once the “victims” were found, the scenario stopped. All of the volunteers gathered for a debriefing of the training to determine how they did and what, if any, improvements needed to be made.
The Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross also participated in the drill to provide a meal for the dozens of rescue personnel on the scene. It was a way for the Red Cross to also practice with its mobile command unit.
Cress said he thought everyone did an excellent job with only a couple of hiccups. He said one thing the volunteers realized was they should’ve opened another radio line.
He said although all of their communications got through, the channel was very busy. He said using another operations channel would’ve alleviated the issue.
Other individuals and agencies participating in the drill included Rowan County 911 Communications, which received an actual 911 call during the scenario and dispatched the call.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.
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