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Atterbury braces for major preparedness training exercise

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On Thursday, a medical helicopter will touch down at a local hospital, and the emergency room will be flooded with people wounded and dying from a terrorist attack.

The casualties will all be pretend — dummies and actors in makeup — but the simulation will give local officials a chance to practice how they would stay organized and respond in the event of a real emergency.

Starting this week, U.S. Army North units are back at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh for the annual Vibrant Response emergency preparedness drill. More than 5,500 military and civilian personnel have arrived at Camp Atterbury for the three-week training exercise, which helps soldiers practice for how they would help in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Military units are called to help with disasters only when local, state and federal emergency responders are overwhelmed, so soldiers don’t get much real-world experience working with civilian groups such as hospital staff or local health departments. Vibrant Response helps soldiers train to help in natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes or after nuclear or terrorist attacks.

The exercise also gives the county’s emergency management and health department staff an opportunity to put their emergency response plans to the test, emergency management agency director Stephanie Sichting said. That testing allows the county to review its plan and make changes if something doesn’t work as well in practice as it sounds on paper before a real-life emergency, she said.

“It gives us time in our own setting in a controlled environment to work our plan to see what we can improve on,” Sichting said. “We can sit back and critique it.”

Medical helicopters will practice making landings and bringing patients into Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. On Thursday, local groups including the Johnson County Health Department will get hands-on experience as patients arrive to simulate a mass-casualty event.

Local residents may notice more military vehicles rolling through Edinburgh or along Interstate 65 and hear helicopters flying overhead during the next three weeks, Camp Atterbury spokeswoman Capt. Jessica Cates said. Camp Atterbury is serving as a staging ground for military vehicles and equipment and also housing the troops on the post, Cates said. Aside from additional road and air traffic, nearby residents shouldn’t be affected because most of the training exercises are taking place at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville.

Some Indiana units are joined mostly by soldiers from Illinois, Ohio and Utah for the event this year, Cates said. For the first time, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security is taking part in the exercise, working with the military to simulate the early stages of the disaster and what steps state officials would need to take to call in support from the military, she said.

The training exercise, which is in its 14th year at Camp Atterbury, also gives specialized National Guard units a chance to use skills that aren’t often put to use in nuclear, chemical or biological decontamination, Cates said.

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