CANINE ALERT: Dog teams in town for training, not emergency

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Emergency Management Coordinator John Pack is on a mission: to prepare Beaufort County residents for the sight of 20 canine teams searching around town this weekend. No, these are not bomb-sniffing dogs — they are human remains search dogs in Washington to participate in training exercises from Thursday through Sunday.

“Because of what’s happened in Boston, I want to get the locations where we’re going to be training out (to the public),” Pack said.

Twenty-one search teams from as far away as New Jersey and Florida will be taking part in the North Carolina Canine Emergency Response Team (NC C.E.R.T.) training that will add hours to the totals teams need for national certification.

Over the four-day period, the search teams (the handlers who are often in uniform), will be spread throughout several sites in Washington. Different sites, and the scents that can be found there, are used to expose the search dogs to many the different scenarios encountered during real search and rescues, according to Pack.

Warren Field is one of those sights. Organizers will bury 35 fragments of bone over approximately one acre of land at Washington’s small airport off Market Street Extension. Officers with the North Carolina Forestry Service will then burn the area, recreating the scene of a plane crash to test the skills of the canines and their handlers.

Though Beaufort County Schools will hold its annual Wright Flight — a program where school achievement is rewarded with airplane rides — on April 20 at Warren Field, Pack said there will be no N.C. C.E.R.T training at the location that day. Rather, the teams will be at three other sites: training around and in railroad cars at Havens Gardens where East Main Street dead-ends; the warehouse and offices of Impressions on Highway 17 North; and the “boneyard,” the storage grounds of old machinery, at Gregory Poole, also on Highway 17 North. Back up sites also include the Beaufort County Schools bus garage on Smaw Road and certain buildings at Ed Tech Center on North Bridge Street.

“Because of the weather coming in on Saturday, we’re trying to go ahead and get the outdoor stuff done, but they’re coming back out on Sunday after the rain,” Pack explained. “There’s a whole different set of scents after a rain.”

Pack said that 30 cadaver dogs had been employed on the streets of Boston after two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and another 100 injured.

“We’re actually training people to respond to incidents like what occurred in Boston,” Pack explained.

Because of the Boston bombings, the public’s heightened sensitivity to unusual activity is at high, Pack said. In response, Pack has alerted businesses and homes neighboring the training sites so that residents do not become unnecessarily alarmed.