10-county group comes together for water exercises at Eagle Lake

Published 9:58 am Thursday, September 29, 2016


Working their way around a section known as “Party Cove” about mid-morning, four deputies aboard a Warren County Sheriff’s Office boat were probing the murky depths of Eagle Lake for a weapon.

Hours earlier, a suspect arrested in a robbery told investigators he threw the .22-caliber rifle used in the crime into to the cove, and the boat was circling the area and using its side scan sonar to spot it on the lake bottom.

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Several minutes later, the gun’s image appeared on the sonar’s screen and the gun was retrieved — a successful training exercise.

The exercise was one of several water-borne drills carried out by members of the Mid-Mississippi Strike Force, a 10-county organization of law enforcements, paid and volunteer fire departments and other emergency management agencies organized to provide each other aid in disasters or other situations.

Besides the sheriff’s office, Warren County firefighters, the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Office and fire service, Madison County Fire Department and Rankin County Emergency management participated in the drills, which required officials to find objects hidden in the lake using GIS coordinates.

Participants were given certain scenarios on the lake and told to carry out the task using those coordinates to find one of several markers at different locations in the oxbow lake.

“We started this morning calling the Sheriff’s office about an accident on Eagle Lake and giving them only the coordinates,” said county fire coordinator Jerry Briggs. “It came just as if someone called from a cell phone and then was cut off. The (911) dispatchers could get the coordinates on the call’s location, and they gave that to the sheriff’s office.”

Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer said the strike force was formed by Madison and Rankin counties in 2010 to enhance the response by area agencies to incidents like storms and efforts to assist law enforcement.

“We have people who are trained in search and rescue, hazardous materials, trenching and other technical skills,” he said. “Warren County has been a member for two or three years — the sheriff’s office, police department, fire service and E911.

“We are all under mutual aid with departments from other parts of the state. If they have an emergency, we go to them, and if we have an emergency, they come to us. We were on the coast for hurricanes and in Hattiesburg recently for the flooding.”

Some of the people working on the strike force are paid, full-time law enforcement, firefighters or emergency management people, “but a lot of them are volunteers. All of them receive the same training.”

The organization holds periodic training programs, Elfer said, adding water-borne exercises like the one on Eagle Lake Wednesday are held quarterly.

“It gives you a chance to break out the special equipment that’s not used much and check it out and make any adjustments,” said E911 communications director Chuck Tate.

“You also get a chance to get the boats out and work with them, and to work with people from different areas and get to know them.”

“Any time you can get officers together in a training setting, we will all learn from one another,” Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said. “We all benefit from exercises like this. Everyone has a different expertise, and they can share that expertise, so everyone benefits.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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