With many on the East End worrying if this year’s hurricane season could bring the long-overdue “big one,” members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing teamed up with New York Army National Guard troops for a hurricane response exercise last week in Westhampton. The goal of Friday’s exercise was to ensure that rescue operations would run efficiently in the event of an actual storm emergency.
“Operation Rainbow Hurricane” involved bringing the 42nd Infantry Division Mobile Command Post from its home station in Troy, New York, to the Air National Guard base at Francis S. Gabreski Airport on Old Riverhead Road. The exercise was aimed at giving troops from both units the chance to experience every phase of a deployment if a Category 4 storm—the second most intense hurricane—were to actually strike.
“We’re trying to be as ready as possible,” Lt. Colonel Richard Goldenberg of the Army National Guard said. “The first time you meet to do this, you don’t want it to be right after a disaster. It will be too late then.”
The 42nd Infantry Division is the National Guard’s domestic all-hazards response team for the eastern United States. During the hurricane response exercise, both ground convoys and military air movements were mobilized to reach Gabreski.
The 106th Rescue Wing hosted the Army National Guard response force headquarters, with the goal of simulating the command and control of more than 5,000 military responders. A fully equipped command post was set up on site.
Lt. Colonel Goldenberg said the exercise offered invaluable hands-on training for younger soldiers who were able to practice every facet of the emergency response procedure, from simulated rescues designed to reduce the amount of time it takes for rescuers to respond in an actual emergency, to the basics, such as setting up tents.
“It’s a unique opportunity,” Lt. Colonel Goldenberg said. “We’re just trying to add tools to their toolbox.”
Long Island, he added, has the potential to sustain substantial infrastructure damage in the event of a hurricane due to the number of above ground utility wires.
According to Colonel Thomas Owens, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, the hurricane response exercise was especially timely. “It’s that season,” he said.
The goal, he added, was to mitigate snafus during a real emergency. The joint collaboration, Col. Owens said, was a prime opportunity for “the two units to align.”
In planning the event, weather was a consideration, Col. Owens noted. “The only thing we were worried about was a real hurricane. We got lucky.”
Hurricane season officially ends on November 30, with officials anticipating between three and six named hurricanes during an above-average storm season this year.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski has once again worked to publish a hurricane guide with safety tips for town residents. The guide is available in both Spanish and English for the first time this year.
Col. Owens said it took more than a year to make last week’s event happen. “We’re excited,” he said, adding that the event gave participants an opportunity to “get close up and view the challenges” a hurricane could pose.