ROCKINGHAM — This weekend, Ellerbe residents in the vicinity of Camp Millstone might notice an unusually high number of people walking through the woods — but chances are they’ll all be law enforcement and emergency services officials and staff searching for a “lost” person as part of field training.
“We received a grant from North Carolina Emergency Management about a year ago, and we brought a specialized consultant company in from Shelby,” said Richmond County Emergency Services Director Donna Wright. “We created a search and rescue exercise. And what’s special about this is it’s going to be regional, starting with our local folks who will come in.
“Then, they’re going to learn how to incorporate outside resources, because they’re going to start calling people from around the state,” Wright continued. “The cool thing about this exercise is this is the first time in North Carolina that they’ve incorporated an equestrian piece, with horseback searchers.”
She said horses would come in handy when searching wooded areas, such as those found throughout Camp Millstone and surrounding woodlands.
“You get out on the game lands over between Ellerbe and Hoffman — that’s a perfect opportunity to bring horses back in for searching,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a 24-hour operation for two days. We start Friday at noon, and we’ll go to eight ‘o clock for that operation’s period, and then night shift starts from eight to eight. And then, the day shift comes Saturday at eight and it runs all the way to noon on Sunday, nonstop.”
More than 100 people registered to participate, Wright added.
“Some are coming from as far as Spartanburg (South Carolina) and Virginia,” she said. ” We try to do a large exercise on occasion. Not too long after I took over, we did an active shooter exercise with law enforcement in the school system on a Saturday.”
She said this training in woodland terrain would be different from the active shooter exercise.
“It’s a skill set that you don’t get to use every day,” Wright explained. “The biggest part of this is all the partnerships we’ve built in this. It starts with our law enforcement coming in, from the sheriff’s office, in this case. They’re going to start the investigation, bring in our fire and rescue folks. The community college is helping with it, with registrations, with helping us put on a man-tracking class. Because starting Wednesday, we have a 50-hour man-tracking certification course that’s going on. Those students will have to participate in the exercise in order to get their certification in search and rescue.”
She said the incident management team approach to the weekend’s training activities will create an immersive experience for everyone who signed up.
“You have a command staff with an incident commander,” she explained. “And different components who are going to write plans and tactics for how things are going to be accomplished in trying to find the lost person.”
According to Wright, the person playing the role of the “lost” walker in the woods will be leaving various clues for the class to discover — clues that may lead to finding the lost person safe and alive.
“We’ll learn what the psychology is of a lost person,” she said. “What typical behaviors are associated with lost people. And based on that interview with our law enforcement officers and our partners there, that gives them other clues.”
Wright said Millstone is going to be the base camp and where everything “kicks off from.”
“It will be the ‘last known place’ where the person was seen,” she said. “Then, you have all those game lands that start at Mallard Lane and go all the way to Hoffman that this person could be in, depending on the situation. We’ve got a lot going on with this exercise. It’s going to be pretty big.”
Wright said the shooting range will be closed during the training for safety purposes, and that if residents see someone walking in the woods in areas close to where the exercise will take place, they should call 911 if they are concerned. Someone there will be able to check whether that person is a participant in the activities.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.