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Georgia Air Guardsmen maintain readiness, partner with community first responders for mass casualty exercise in Middle Georgia

U.S. Airmen with the 116th Medical Group, Detachment 1, Georgia Air National Guard, and a civilian medical student prepare to transport patient with simulated injuries at Central Georgia Technical College, Warner Robins, Georgia, June 11, 2021. Nearly 50 personnel with the 116th MDG, Det 1, trained with civilian medical professionals and local authorities to respond to a mass casualty scenario in a two-day exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Josiah Meece)

U.S. Airmen with the 116th Medical Group, Detachment 1, Georgia Air National Guard, and a civilian medical student prepare to transport patient with simulated injuries at Central Georgia Technical College, Warner Robins, Georgia, June 11, 2021. Nearly 50 personnel with the 116th MDG, Det 1, trained with civilian medical professionals and local authorities to respond to a mass casualty scenario in a two-day exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Josiah Meece)

WARNER ROBINS, Georgia -- Nearly 50 medical personnel with the 116th Medical Group, Detachment 1, Georgia Air National Guard, trained with civilian medical professionals and local authorities to respond to a mass casualty scenario in Warner Robins, Georgia, June 11 and 12.

The Big Blast Theory exercise, initiated by the Medical Association of Georgia’s Medical Reserve Corps (MAG MRC) and hosted at Central Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins, pulled 275 participants from around Georgia together for two days, honing their individual skills and learning to operate together.

“Readiness is critical to us,” said Lt. Col. James Small, 116th MDG, Det 1 commander. “You never know when a disaster could happen.”

According to Small, in domestic operations such as disaster response, military personnel typically fall under the guidance of a civilian response team. There are pieces of the operation that can only be trained on with civilian cooperation, such as patient transportation to medical facilities.

This event aimed to integrate various state response agencies, so the medical director of MAG/MRC made contact with the Georgia National Guard’s homeland response force, looking for interest.

“The people charged with providing protection to the community are in multiple agencies,” said Dr. John Harvey, MAG MRC’s medical director and the master mind behind the exercise. “Coming together seamlessly doesn't occur without training.”

Harvey was part of the medical response for a number of emergency incidents, to include the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and Hurricane Katrina. Harvey’s objectives for the exercise included improved command and control during disaster responses and training in simulated, but realistic conditions, according to Harvey.

“We put together practical challenges that stress the skills utilized in disasters,” he said.

For this exercise, that looked like using moulage on volunteers to simulate injuries, dramatic role play, sirens, sounds of explosions, and smoke. Participants operated in the rain and the heat, too.

“The irony is we train for an event we hope never happens,” Small said. “But as it goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

Networking was a very important aspect of the exercise, according to Dr. Frances Purcell, dean of the Trinity School of Medicine and lead planner for the exercise.

“We all know the time to exchange business cards is not in the midst of the chaos,” Purcell said. “These exercises better prepare us to respond, because we’re going to be thrown into the chaos together.”

The MAG MRC planning committee is looking to do future iterations of this exercise, according to Purcell.

Besides the 116th MDG, Det 1, participants included the Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Warner Robins Police Department, several local fire departments, and other local medical response entities.

“The exercise was a win-win for us,” Small said. “I think the participation among the participants was fantastic. Everyone was willing to compromise and work together to make this successful to achieve the training goals of each entity, as well as showcase their readiness capabilities.”