Guard, Federal and Interagency Civilian Partners exercise to improve Disaster Response

By Air Force Lt Col Karen Roganov Joint Task Force Civil Support

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More than 50 people from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (CRE) gathered at JTF-CS headquarters for a table-top exercise to rehearse scenarios for responding to complex catastrophic disasters in the United States and its territories, May 15-16.

“We’re here to see what’s possible, what the key decision points are, the risks associated and where the major capability gaps are when providing support,” said Army Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, commander, JTF-CS. “We are CBRN-focused, and yet we must also be ready for an all-hazards response.”

Those two mission sets were built into the exercise crisis scenarios with two category-four hurricanes hitting the United States followed by a nuclear detonation in a major metropolitan city in a Pacific region.

The attendees from the CRE talked out three concepts of operations for responses taking into consideration current plans, past hurricane seasons, other members’ real-world disaster involvement and recent exercise participation.

“Going through this detailed type of analysis shows the progression of how the CRE could be utilized in future support to civil authorities,” said Mr. David Kang, Deputy Director, Response Planning and Exercise Division, FEMA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.  “It allows FEMA to better integrate the comprehensive DoD elements into our plans to more effectively and efficiently apply resources to a broad range of disasters.”

When dealing with complex disaster scenarios supporting civil authorities, it was discussed by attendees there are also complexities with understanding and coordinating who would do what, when, how and with what assets to help Americans during a time of great need.

“Strategic resources are limited and timing is of the essence during a crisis so we can generate enough aircrew and aircraft to get to the point of need,” said Mr. Paul Yakes, transportation planner, U.S. Transportation Command located at Scott Air Force Base, Il.

Still, the participants relayed confidence in their ongoing response preparations.

“We’re a trained, ready and capable two-star headquarters ready to mission command forces for all hazards as part of a tiered unified response in accordance with the National Response Framework,” said Army Col Todd Liebig, chief of staff, Task Force 76, Command and Control for CBRN Response Element Alpha, which is a U.S. Army Reserve unit headquartered in Westover, Mass. 

The exercise participants were from the overall enterprise consisting of 18,700 Army and Air National Guard, joint Reserve members, and joint Active-Duty military and DoD civilians organized into 88 various teams or units comprising five CBRN entities in America under the authority of a local governor or Federal organization ready to support a lead primary agency in charge of a response.

Those entities include the National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs); state active-duty and Guard CBRN Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFPs); state active-duty and Guard Homeland Response Forces (HRFs); active-duty regular military and Reserve component JTF-CS and accompanying Defense CBRN Response Forces (DCRF); an active-duty regular military and Reserve component Command and Control CBRN Response Element (C2CRE) and another state active-duty and Guard and active-duty Reserve C2CRE.

During the exercise, discussions included topics like air, land and sea transportation; prioritizing responder capability movements to an area of need and sustainment; increasing interoperability of processes and equipment; coordinating with the interagency and supporting the lead Federal agency; civilian employer notifications, financial management, managing expectations to meet the vast needs and more.

The table top exercise, named Vista Sequel, concluded with talk about the way ahead in preparation for complex crisis responses based on the discussions.

“This event helped solidify the great progress we’ve made as an enduring DSCA and CBRN headquarters and re-energized our ongoing efforts to improve the CBRN Response Enterprise,” said Army Col Chris McKinney, chief of operations, Task Force 46, Command and Control for CBRN Response Element Bravo, headquartered at the Michigan National Guard. “Any time we can come together to improve interoperability is time well spent.”