Camden County authorities conduct missing persons drill

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As the search continues for 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez in Cumberland County, a group of Camden county responders spent the night in their local park training for a similar situation.

Emergency personnel in Berlin Borough headed out into the woods in search of a missing person in a training exercise set up by the Berlin Office of Emergency Management.

“We thought it would be the best to sharpen our pencils here and work together and try to figure out exactly what we do in the case that something like this happens, whether it’s a child or an adult missing,” says OEM coordinator Rushi Pandya.

Each group was given the same scenario at a mock command center. Two dummies were placed in the woods and the teams headed out in groups to try to find them.

“We have a drill of two missing people that walked away from their mother. We do have a suspicious male who was seen in the woods at the time the children went missing and the mom calls the police department 15 minutes after they initially go missing,” Pandya says of the exercise.

In the scenario, the two children have autism and are nonverbal – making it a specialized and unique situation for the first responders.

“They’re scared of loud noises so we can’t be running through the woods looking for them. screaming and yelling because they’re going to go further and further from us,” Pandya says.

Berlin Police Lt. TJ Varano says that training exercises like this are imperative.

“I think it’s important for our officers to get just something that’s out of the box, unique training. That it’s just something new that we’ve never done before, just to have that on your tool belt when you arrive on the scene like this,” he says.

The responders said that the training was timely due to what is happening in Bridgeton with the missing girl.

“This is a park in our town. This could happen any day of the week. It’s a populated park, usually there’s kids playing on the playground and at the ballfields too, so it could happen any day,” Varano says.

Officials say this is the first time in a while that they've set up a drill of this magnitude for a missing persons case. Crews from police, fire, EMS and volunteers from the Camden Community Emergency Response team all participated.

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