Governor attends GOHSEP/Louisiana National Guard Emergency Response Exercises in Natchitoches

Pictured above are Red River Waterway Commission Executive Director Colin Brown, Red River Waterway Commissioner Randall Fletcher, Parish President Rick Nowlin, Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey, Governor John Bel Edwards, Red River Waterway Commission Marketing Director Eric Gilmore, Red River Waterway Commissioner Charlie Greer, Natchitoches Parish District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington, and Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) and Louisiana National Guard (LANG) coordinated a state Disaster Response Exercise (DRX), which began on April 3. On April 5, Governor John Bel Edwards drove to Natchitoches to watch the exercise being held at the Red River Boat Launch at Grand Ecore.

When asked why he chose to come to Natchitoches, Gov. Edwards explained he saw it listed as “The Best in the South” in this month’s Southern Living magazine. In all seriousness, he chose to come to Natchitoches because most of the exercises have been in the southern part of the state. This is the first year exercises have been done in the northern part of the state.

The exercise is held before hurricane season, which starts on June 1 this year. Typically it’s focused South of I-10 because that’s the area that gets hit first in a hurricane. However, as the hurricane continues to move North, Gov. Edwards said they found out when Natchitoches was flooded in 2016, that a nasty thunderstorm that just sits and drops rain can do that anywhere.

“This is one of the most important things we do every year,” said Edwards. “This training exercise is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships, coordination efforts, to make sure we’re learning and improving, to test our command and control. This is one of the largest, most integrated disaster response exercises we’ve ever conducted. I don’t think you all can remember a time when in preparation for hurricane season Natchitoches Parish was involved in one of these exercises.”

Local participating agencies included Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office, Natchitoches Regional Medical Center EMS, Natchitoches Parish Fire Departments, Natchitoches Animal Control Shelter, and Northwestern State University ROTC students.

The NHS brought animals to the exercises because pets are now being included in rescue methods. If you don’t rescue the pet, a lot of times the individual will refuse to leave without them.

The exercise allows state agencies to test actions such as search and rescue operations, evacuation procedures, restoring civil order after a disaster, commodities distribution, re- establishing communication and publically examine combined capabilities to synchronize emergency response functions.

Parish President Rick Nowlin, Mayor Lee Posey and Sheriff Victor Jones attended the exercise as well. Nowlin mentioned Natchitoches Parish’s new Emergency Operations Center, and thanked Edwards for his support in making it a reality.

The Red River Waterway Commission was proud that the GOHSEP, LDWF, NPSO, NFD, and all the other organizations were able to use its facility at Grand Ecore to perform these exercises that will better prepare them to serve the people of Louisiana.

Combined, over 1,000 employees from several agencies statewide and members of the Louisiana National Guard participated. Other agencies participating included Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Corrections, Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, Department of Children and Family Services, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Transportation and Development.

The exercise was staged in several parishes across the state including Plaquemines, Natchitoches, Tangipahoa, and Ouachita.