Trucks and tents cover a field on Biltmore property off Brevard Road. Over 300 participants from more than 30 agencies are participating in a practice large-scale Search and Rescue (SAR) put on by the Buncombe County Emergency Management office. Both the trucks and the tents run from small to huge — from one-man popup tents to a 100x40ft monster of a dining hall tent, from small ATVs to tractor-trailer units.
“Logistics for these things are always what we try to get right,” says Angela Ledford of Buncombe County Emergency Management. “If you can’t organize, feed, house, clean, and equip your search parties, you are not going to succeed at finding your victims. We always learn a lot from doing these,” said Ledford.
All of these exercises have a story. This one is no exception. It goes like this. On a recent afternoon two men with a shotgun were seen trying to force two younger men into a car at the Farmer’s Market. Police responded, it turned into a hostage situation which went bad, as the victims ran away from the police and into the woods.The suspects were apprehended and refused to say anything. Further investigation revealed the two missing victims were special needs adults, who would hide from searchers. The hunt was on.
As the tent city grew with new arrivals — from Haywood, McDowell, Madison, Henderson, Yancey, Mitchell Counties — departments from Buncombe County — Skyland, Weaverville, Woodfin, Asheville, Black Mountain — got started. “At least the weather cooperated,” said Ledford. In the first few hours there is no shortage of things to do, it requires a round-the-clock schedule. Setting up the large tents. Making a smartphone app for teams. Endless paperwork with maps and lists. Food, Skyland Fire ran that.. Shelter. Showers, which came in a tractor-trailer from the Greensboro, NC fire department. Porta-potties. Trash pick-up. Transportation. You get the idea. This camp could be gone tomorrow with a find of the victims, or it could last weeks.
This time, it was only for a weekend. Enough to give everyone involved a good idea of how to run a large-scale SAR.
On Sunday afternoon, everyone was home safe, the actors out of character, the teams back with their families, the tents packed away, the farm field not much worse for wear. But all the lessons learned, the contacts made, and the gear are still there, ready to be used any time, any place.