Mississippi Guardsmen prepare for worst-case scenario

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "The red is hurricane force winds," Colonel Lee Smithson said as he pointed to a map.  "We're on the most dangerous quadrant of that storm."

It was a scary scenario. On Friday, a group of soldiers and airmen pretended that Hurricane Elena, the same one that struck Mississippi in 1985, was once again barreling towards Biloxi.

"It was a complicated, unpredictable storm," said Col. Lee Smithson, Director of Military Support. "And we like to rehearse the worse-case scenario, the thing that will tax our soldiers and our leaders the most."

Representatives from various Mississippi National Guard units had to make sure the troops and equipment were in position and prepared to carry out their mission, from clearing debris to search and rescue operations.

"They're a huge source of manpower and equipment, well-organized, and are able to get in and provide the assistance that we need," said MEMA Director Mike Womack.

This year, their force will be much smaller.  Out of 13,000 Guard members, about 4,000 will be deploying to the Middle East in June, right when hurricane season starts.

"We've actually entered into an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) with the state of Kentucky and other neighboring states to provide soldiers and airmen, if we get hit with another Katrina-like storm," said Smithson.

The drill will help them fine-tune their disaster response strategy, in case they get orders to activate.

"We learned a lot of lessons from Katrina, and every year we get better and better," said Smithson. "And this year, we hope we don't have to execute it.  But if we have to, I feel very confident that we're ready to help the people of Mississippi."

The Guard members also tested their communications equipment and identified points of distribution for water, ice, and emergency supplies.  The training continues Saturday.

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