Civil affairs teams and civil military support elements of the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) are still having an effect on the eight North Carolina counties they visited more than three months ago. For four days in May and again in June, civil affairs teams and civil military support elements from the battalion fanned out into towns and villages of the eight inner Outer Banks counties in North Carolina, to assist local government officials with chronic emergency management and disaster planning issues.
“This was the first time we went to those particular counties in the Outer Banks region,” said a planner for the battalion exercise. The battalion, like many U.S. Army Special Operations Command units, usually trains in counties near Fort Bragg. This time, the battalion conducted mission readiness exercises in Chowan, Perquimans, Washington, Tyrrell, Dare, Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck counties in North Carolina.
“We were in the northeastern section of North Carolina, where they have a history of weather-related disasters, hurricanes included,” said the battalion’s training and operations officer. She said the area was a good fit for the CA teams, whose battalion specializes in the U.S. Pacific Command’s area of operations, where many coastal nations, from India to the Philippines, contend with extreme wet weather disasters.
For tens of thousands of tourists during the summer, the farms, forests and wetlands of Washington County are almost endless miles of two-lane highways on the way to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
It’s a different story for Washington County officials and emergency management planners.
Within the resources of a small tax base, the county’s officials and emergency management planners must serve 12,000 people spread out over 400 square miles of rural landscapes. They welcomed the opportunity for additional resources provided by the battalion as they, in turn, helped the battalion meet its military training objectives.
In meetings before and during the exercise, Washington County’s emergency management officials, battalion planners, and the CA teams assigned to the county, worked out several projects the team would complete during the four days of exercise play.
The two main issues that were addressed were disaster mitigation and information for a Federal Emergency Management Agency packet, for an all-terrain, flood-fording emergency management service vehicle. Additionally, two infrastructure building assessments were completed — assessment of the Plymouth fire station for flood risk, and also an infrastructure assessment of a county-owned warehouse near the municipal airport that serves the county seat.
To support the county’s grant application for a new EMS vehicle, the county arranged for its deputy sheriff investigator to show the CA team low-lying areas where he has rescued residents during floods and heavy rains in recent years.
The CA team took photographs and recorded geographical coordinates to update the county’s flood maps dating back four decades. Improving the database will assist the county plan evacuation routes and take other disaster prevention and recovery measures before and after flooding occurs.
“When we have flooding, people are literally captive in their homes,” said Elizabeth Floyd, chief deputy sheriff for the county. “Water is above their knees. Some of these individuals absolutely refuse to leave their homes and in the wake of a disaster, they call us and we have to assist. The standard ambulance just can’t make it in water that is more than six to seven inches deep.”
Floyd said she appreciated the work of the CA team.
“The help that we got from the survey and the Army is going to benefit us a lot. We worked together real well. There was very wide experience on the team, a team that was well put together. I think they were on point with things that went on and the interfaces they had with different groups. Our relations with the team were excellent.”
Perhaps the best indicator of CA teams’ performances came from those not affected by their exercise.
Some of the neighboring counties asked why they weren’t getting the teams and were told by organizers that they would try to get to these counties when they conduct another exercise later this year. Some counties will be revisited the next time, and then they will go to a whole different area.”