The Military and the Orange County Emergency Services were Ready for Gustav
A military detachment under the command of Lieutenant Sean Trobaugh came into Orange highly trained and well prepared to deal with whatever Hurricane Gustav would have brought to the area.
Trobaugh’s command consisted of the 72nd Brigade Combat Team, Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Army National Guard based in Houston, and the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment of the Texas State Guard.
The military detachment was also accompanied by Angela Walker, R.N. and Lari Bender, L.V.N. from Angel Staffing of San Antonio. The nurses were with the army medics to provide advanced medical beyond the scope of the medic’s duties.
“We have so far provided triage for the evacuees, along with the medics. As the people came in for evacuation we checked them out to see what level of care they may need and then sent them on to transportation for their transport to either shelter or medical assistance as needed,” said Bender.
“As long as we are needed we will accompany the military unit assigned here,” said Walker.
Gary Gray, a driver with Suncoast Transit Corporation was following the military convoy with a tanker load of fuel.”A lot of diesel and a little gasoline,” said Gray. “I go with them, wherever they go. It is my job to keep them furnished with the fuel they need.”
“There are several duties we are here to provide. First is to assist the evacuees in any way needed through the evacuation. We will them be here to also assist with the evacuee retrieval. As the evacuees return we will assist them as we are needed.
Another function of our units is that we are trained in high water rescue. We have the vehicles that are able to drive through high waters to assist those that may be stranded. It could have been possible that the Lamar Orange Student could have been under 12 feet of water if the storm would have been a direct hit here.
We also provide ‘follow on services’. That would be to deliver food, water, ice and other needed supplies to anyone that would remain in the area, especially to assist the county emergency rescue agencies.
We also transition to ground services and would assist in clearing streets where needed and provide similar tasks that the emergency agencies would ask us to do. Our assistance has been given in registering people who are evacuees and then helping to locate and track them as would be required,” said Trobaugh. ”The total number of personnel here is 22 Army National Guard and 19 from the Texas State Guard.”
The two guard units had been assigned at the Lamar State College Orange Student Center. As of Monday morning with the storm not making a direct hit on Orange the units were separated.
The Texas State Guard was moved to Beaumont. The Army National Guard unit was moved into the Emergency Operations Center with the Orange County emergency agencies.
“I have been impressed with the way that all the agencies here have cooperated. They have all had the same goal, working together for the good of the people. There is a level of cooperation here that I have seldom seen anywhere else that we have been assigned. In particular Sheriff Mike White has done an outstanding job and has been a pleasure to work with. He has been a tremendous asset to Orange County in this situation. I feel honored to have been a part of this mission,” said Trobaugh.
The Orange County emergency personnel was using the AT&T building as the command center and the facility of First Methodist Church located next door to the command center as the kitchen and dormitory for the personnel.
Some Orange county personnel had begun to move into the EOC late Thursday. Most of the operations personnel started to be in place at 8:00 A.M. Friday morning. The need for food for the personnel started with lunch Friday.
All of the cooking since that time has been done by Marlene and Robert Merritt. They are the wife and son of sheriff-elect Keith Merritt.
The duo has provided meals for as many as 87 people at the highest number on Sunday.
The average number of meals per day has been between 100 and 150. The menu has ranged from cold sandwiches to hot dogs to spaghetti and meat sauce. Breakfast has been a simple as a bowl of cereal to a hot breakfast of biscuits, gravy and anything else the Merritts could think of to include.
Meal times have been breakfast, lunch, supper, and a meal at midnight for those on the overnight shift. They have tried to serve two hot meals a day. On Sunday a group came in that had not had a hot meal in two days so the Merritts cooked and served three hot meals that day.
Monday at noon the Army National Guard personnel moved into the dormitory and lined up for their first hot meal in two days. Prior to moving into the EOC they had been “feasting” on MRE’s, Meals Ready to Eat, from their rations and food that was brought in by the local Red Cross.
The soldiers were appreciative of the hot dogs and the Merritts taking time to volunteer to provide the hot food.
The emergency effort has been headed up by orange county Jeff Kelly, Emergency Management Coordinator and Frankie Walters, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator.
“Every city in the county has been great in coordinating the emergency efforts for this storm. Every police department and fire department has been working together and cooperating in a fantastic way. We have had ambulances come here from as far away as Ohio. We have had a massive amount of assistance from all of the local industries. Everyone had done anything they have been asked to do.
We have learned that there are some things that we need to fine tune a little. There are things that have run smoothly and there are things that we need to improve on. Overall this has been a good exercise and we have learned a lot. Our local planning LAPC has worked and we are very pleased with that effort as well,” said Kelly.
One agency that has proven to be valuable is CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team.
CERT is a group of community volunteers that assist the communities and county in a number of ways. CERT volunteers assist the Orange County Sheriffs Department as clerical assistants. They also serve other agencies in similar ways.
“At the present we have three trained teams with about 87 members. We are a group of people that want to provide a service to our area and have the time to volunteer to do so.
We are trained to assist First Responders and can assist in search and rescue. We have the tools to shut off gas lines if we need to do so to search a building for survivors. Our members have received first aid and CPR training. There are many things that we can do to help out in an emergency. We are always on the lookout for new members,” said Glenn Dutton, CERT volunteer.
“We have assisted with 211 registrations with this storm. After the mandatory evacuation was called and the first registrations were done there were 4000 more that called in to register with 211. All of those had to be done by hand. It was quite a job. The additional registrations were done in the entire 211 area, not just in Orange County.”
Even though the area missed a direct hit by Hurricane Gustav there was still a lot of work to be done by a lot of people. They will all remain on their jobs until the mandatory evacuation is cancelled by county officials and even for a while after until all of the work is done and the all clear is given for them to return to their normal jobs, duties and to their families.