Vibrant Response brings realistic disaster training close to home

By Spc. John Crosby | Camp Atterbury Public Affairs | November 11, 2009

EDINBURGH, Ind. – Smoke billowing from buildings, the beating of helicopter blades and constant radio chatter echo over ground zero; the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind., on November 9.

                The scenario is unimaginable to many; a nuclear weapon detonates over a large U.S. city. The catastrophe calls on our nation’s military and first responders. The Army and Air National Guard answer the call. The training event is dubbed Vibrant Response.

Over the years, the tragedies of the tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina and the attacks on September 11, make training for an event of this magnitude seem necessary.

“Some would say it’s not a question of if but when there’s going to be another large scale catastrophic attack on our nation,” said Lt. Gen. Tom Turner, U.S. Army North commander.

                Training for such a catastrophe has been deemed mandatory by U.S. military officials.

“It is an extraordinary training opportunity for a nation’s capability,” said Gen. Victor E. “Gene” Renuart Jr., commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. “The kinds of scenarios that you see throughout this training venue allow us to practice not only the individual skills but the organizational skills necessary to respond to this type of an event.”

                The training event, commanded by Army North, involved more than 4,000 people. Muscatatuck’s layout of 120-plus buildings, nine miles of roads and underground tunnel systems proved an excellent venue to create such a scenario.

“It hits all of the major training venues that you would find in an urban area,” said Lt. Col. Chris Kelsey, Muscatatuck commander. “It should really task all of these units to really use their full spectrum of tools to get the job done.”

Casualties, rubble piles and emergency sirens added to the event’s realism.

                “It was exciting the second we got in the gate,” said Army Sgt. Mathew Morgan, 379th Chemical Company headquartered in Chicago. “The simulated town and wreckage everywhere, role players with simulated injuries… It seems really well thought out.”

                The Army and Air Guard units operated with a full spectrum of components necessary to respond to the mock nuclear attack. First, identifier teams roved the wreckage taking radiation tests ensuring the levels were safe enough for servicemembers to begin work.

                Next, search and rescue teams extracted civilians and casualties from the affected areas. The affected people were decontaminated and then triaged and given medical care according to priority of injuries. Several echelons of care operated by several units of different military branches all operated as one.

“It gives them an assessment of their capability, gives them an assessment of their level of physical fitness and their endurance,” said Jeff Taylor, operations and medical and analytical evaluator. “It helps you to understand just how much you actually can do and how hard you can push yourself.”

Valuable lessons are learned each day during Vibrant Response including communication, logistical and coordination issues.

 “I’d like to see them gain confidence in their equipment, confidence in their team and confidence to do the job they need to do anywhere in the United States or anywhere else in the world if they were called,” said Kelsey.

Beyond the challenges of working in the mass-casualty situation and the chaos of the aftermath of the mock nuclear blast, the Guard units faced the challenges of working with other units, other branches of the military and civilian authorities.

“That’s what we’re focusing on today is the evacuation piece and the integration of units that don’t normally work together,” said Taylor. “I think they learned a great deal.”

As Vibrant Response draws to a close, plans for future events such as this are discussed, possibly a smaller quarterly event in conjunction with a yearly training scenario according to Kelsey.

                “I would say without a doubt that the quality of this force that we have is as good as anywhere in the world,” said Turner. “I think that we as a nation have come to realize that the threat is real and we have to be prepared for that. Is the nation prepared to respond? Yes. Do we need to grow that capability further? Yes. That’s what these exercises are designed to do.”