Over a hundred first responders from across Mississippi are working into the early morning hours in the darkness at Camp Shelby as a part of “Operation Night Owl."
The full-scale exercise is being put on by the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, and it focuses on enhanced training for first responders on three regional task forces.
“This situation we are in and the surroundings we are in are the most life like that we can provide for the responders,” said Rusty Barnes, executive director of Mississippi office of Homeland Security.
The exercise is broken into multiple parts that run from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.
“The reason we do it like this is, disasters don’t occur on a time frame, they don’t occur on a schedule, so we are trying to get them as much real world, real life training as we can,” Barnes said
First responders get a chance to not only learn new skills, but put what they already know to the test.
“They will do rope rescue, overland search and rescue, collapse structure rescue, quite a few skill sets are gone be put to test,” Barnes said.
With Mississippi having more than 30 tornadoes on record already in 2016, instructors selected a tornado devastated town with dozens of victims as the scenario.
“We are bringing in all three regional task force search and rescue teams from the state of Mississippi in on this drill,” Barnes said. “They are trained first responders, the majority of them are firefighters, and what we are doing is mainly a skills test, but it’s also times with plenty of plot twists along the way.”
Responders are given new tasks to complete time after time, from simple rescues, to more difficult ones, which include multiple people all working together.
“The people that we have here are some of the most highly trained first responders in the nation,” Barnes said.
The training is something all of the guys are familiar with and work together on a regular basis.
“A lot of times, the state of Mississippi catches a lot of flack, saying we are on the bottom of the ladder when it comes to a lot of certain things, but when it comes to search and rescue and first response the people of Mississippi can feel proud, that they are at the top of the list,” Barnes said. “I would put this group of people up against anybody in the nation.”