County practices ground searchPublished 9:58am Thursday, June 28, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — Seventy-five volunteered at 7 a.m. Saturday for a ground search exercise with the scenario that an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from the Medical Care Facility was spotted on foot near Vandalia.
Where disaster drills usually revolve around natural calamities such as a tornado, mobilizing a manhunt with 27 citizen volunteers — mostly from CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team, and the rest firefighters and law enforcement from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Indian Lake and Newberg, Penn and Howard townships and Pride Care and Life Care ambulance services — is more likely to happen.
“In Cass County, this is the most consistent threat we have,” said Undersheriff Rick Behnke, pointing to two to three occurrences a year.
Behnke served as the public information officer, while sheriff’s Capt. Lyndon Parrish was incident commander.
Also on hand for the exercise which took place on a sunny, pleasant morning with temperatures warming to 73, were Sheriff Joe Underwood, Dowagiac Public Safety Director Tom Atkinson, Dowagiac Deputy Fire Chief Guy Evans, county Emergency Preparedness Coordinator David Smith and Minnie Warren, chairwoman of the Cass County Board of Commissioners.
“It was a good training,” Parrish said. “We found our guys, and no searchers got hurt.”
To throw a curveball, however, the exercise called for a rescuer to unexpectedly break his leg, just as evidence had been planted to guide teams.
The subjects in the role of John Doe, 85, were dummies known as Bob and Randy, who had to be located. One is just a torso. Two ICPs, or incident command posts, were set up for communications with the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) next to the 1899 courthouse.
Even a MedFlight helicopter from Memorial Hospital in South Bend flew over to add a bit of realism.
One ICP was on the grounds of the MCF on Hospital Street south of Cassopolis. The other was at the Penn Township fire station, so searchers could canvass door-to-door with a photo while another team systematically slogged through dense forest.
It was a little too realistic when guns were drawn in a clearing where an old, possibly inhabited, shed seemed to appear out of nowhere feet from the street and a cacophony of barking dogs.
Doe, however, described as a 5-foot-9, 150-pound white man with grey hair and brown eyes and wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, was located on Bonine Street before 10:30 a.m.