NEW ORLEANS (Army News Service, March 25, 2013) -- As hurricane season approaches, a recently completed preparedness exercise in Louisiana demonstrated that National Guard units and other first responders there are ready to assist if called upon.

The Louisiana National Guard, or LANG, joined federal, state and local partner agencies in the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness disaster training exercise, at Fontainebleau State Park in St. Tammany Parish and the Grand Prairie Rest Area in St. Landry Parish, March 23.

The training exercise provided partner agencies the opportunity to conduct joint all-hazards disaster response operations in a controlled environment in advance of the 2013 hurricane season.

"The National Guard is ready for this coming hurricane season," said Brig. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.

Curtis said the exercise tested Guard readiness to respond to any emergency. The exercise also showed that that partner agencies at the state, federal and local level were able to work together effectively.

"Our citizens place great faith in all of us to do what we train to do; for our Guardsmen, along with the other state and local emergency responders, to be ready to protect them and their property in times of emergency," Curtis said.

During the exercise, featured training lanes included land and water search and rescue, helicopter medical evacuation, interoperability of communications systems, site security and commodities distribution.

Dexter Accardo, director of St. Tammany Parish's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, described the value of joint emergency training exercises in multiple locations in the state.

"What you see here is a joint operation that shows the multiple levels of resources available to a community like St. Tammany Parish," he said. "You get to know what everybody's capabilities are and how you share resources as a team. For example, the Guard has a footprint on just about everything going on in every parish and throughout the state, you have people affiliated with all the state's emergency support functions."

Perhaps the most visible and vital of the response training that occurred in both St. Tammany and St. Landry Parishes was the land and water search and rescue simulations performed by the LANG and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, or LDWF, the state's lead agency for all search and rescue operations.

Lt. Col. Dallas Jones, search and rescue coordinator for LANG's State Aviation Command, described how the LDWF uses the Guard's aviation assets to exponentially enhance its critical mission.

"In the event of an emergency, we'll assist LDWF to initiate search and rescue operations using their boat crews and our UH-72 assets," Jones said. "We bring a helicopter that is basically a communications package with eight different radios that talks to all the agencies that are doing search and rescue, in addition to providing real-time video footage to agents with hand-held receivers on the ground."

That type of interagency cooperation requires hands-on training and rehearsal. Accardo said the exercise has helped build a relationship of trust between his office and the LANG, something he said is critical.

"Our relationship with the Guard is excellent because we work as one team. I believe I heard [Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, adjutant general of the LANG] say in an earlier planning meeting that this is what it's all about, showing how we all have the capabilities to work as one team in a crisis situation," said Accardo.

An official observer from "big" Army, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gailes, Alabama Guardsman and commander, Contingency Command Post (Task Force 51), U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was impressed by the level of preparedness he observed in the LANG and its partner agencies.

"You all are the heavy lifters for your state; a very skilled, very well-resourced agency that can move in and take on almost any task that a state needs to serve their people," said Gailes. "Louisiana's got it, the ability of the National Guard to integrate with its partners both at the local level, the parish level here and at the state level. Everybody understands what the requirements are, what the capabilities are, and that everybody's main concern, No. 1 main priority, is serving our citizens."