The Richmond Observer – SEARCH ON: RockSAR Training Exercise Begins at Diggs Tract

ROCKINGHAM — More than 200 search and rescue personnel from across North Carolina will trek through the South River Hills near the Pee Dee River this weekend for Exercise RockSAR 2022.

The training, which includes groups and individuals from the mountains to the coast, is funded by an $84,000 grant from NC Emergency Management, according to county emergency services director Bob Smith.

Scott Brooks of Chatham County-based Crisis Tech is leading the exercise at Diggs Tract.

Brooks said about 210 people signed up for the three-day training event.

“Some of them are with research teams, and a lot of them are what’s called unique resources,” Brooks said. “They come here and we will join them with other teams and send them on a search mission.”

“This is a big evolution in training for new people who have new certifications so they can experience research,” he added.

Brooks said the incident management team was supposed to be set up in a 60-acre field about halfway through the area, but recent rains have left them lined up along the road.

“It’s all a bit packed…but that’s real life. We go to places like that all the time,” Brooks said. “You can’t control Mother Nature.”

Those working on the incident management side map and decide where to send searchers from a mobile command center.

“There are a lot of moving parts going on,” Brooks said.

Researchers include K-9 teams, drone teams and a few on horseback, working with “ground rammers”.

The search and rescue group Pineland Resources, based in Ellerbe, is also taking part in the exercise.

The training includes several breakout sessions, including an informative talk on children with autism from Meghann Lambeth, head of the Richmond County chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina. Lambeth, whose son has autism, is also the county’s director of tourism.

On the Saturday evening program, the NC SAR Advisory Council

“We’re trying to do a lot of things at the same time,” Brooks said. “When you have so many people here, you have to do a little bit of everything you can.”

It’s the first large-scale training event since the COVID pandemic began two years ago, according to Brooks.

“People are really looking forward to getting back into the woods…and getting some additional training,” he said.

The Diggs Tract spans over 1,600 acres of rolling terrain several miles south of Cordova.

Brooks described the terrain as “interesting”, adding that there were “very large embankments” and, because of Wednesday’s rains, marshy areas and creeks which are generally easier to cross but are currently ” raging waters” which make the situation more difficult.

Because it’s “in the middle of nowhere,” Brooks said they had to bring bathroom and shower trailers and generators and have attendees bring food.

“It’s a massive undertaking logistically,” said Brooks, adding that organizers began planning for the exercise in June 2021. “But honestly, it could be a real scenario.”

RESEARCH SCENARIO

Those attending the weekend’s event will be looking for “victims” of a religious group who are kayaking from Hitchcock Creek to the river and camping in the grounds.

In the script, Brooks said, the group is separated due to high water and stormy conditions: “Some are injured, they capsize, some are hypothermic.”

Three of the “victims” are real people and seven are models, according to Brooks.

“A pretty realistic scenario, as far as I’m concerned,” Brooks said.

If teams end their mission too soon, Brooks said the scenario can be manipulated by moving living victims to another location.

CHOOSE LOCATION

There have been several search and rescue training missions at Camp Millstone 4-H in Ellerbe in the past.

But, Brooks said Smith wanted the challenge of setting it all up and demonstrating the tools and capabilities that can be implemented in a real-world situation.

“It makes for a big logistical challenge, but it’s been good,” Brooks said.

The exercise will continue until Sunday.

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Brandon D. James