Maine puts emergency responders to the test during Vigilant Guard exercise
By Sgt. Angela Parady
121st Public Affairs Detachment
Nov. 12, 2013 —
BRUNSWICK, Maine - A major winter ice storm bringing nearly three feet
of snow and frigid temperatures leaves hundreds of thousands without
power. An ice arena collapses with an unknown number of people inside;
later that night there is a suspected terrorist attack at a major
government facility. A suspected anthrax lab has been reported, and
hazardous material has leaked on a ship coming into Portland
This culmination of events was only an exercise to test the preparedness
of emergency management systems in Maine, but it could happen. To be
better prepared, emergency aid agencies and National Guard soldiers from
seven states, and first responders participated in a Vigilant Guard
exercise in Maine, Nov. 5-8.
Every year, NGB and the U.S. Northern Command pick four locations to
host the exercise. Each location is in a different FEMA region, so the
likelihood of a state being able to host the event more than once is
rare. The goal of the program is to enhance both National Guard and
state emergency preparedness.
All of the participants work together to assess storm damage, identify
hazmat threats, decontamination, search and rescue, patient extraction,
triage, and other emergency-response measures. Working side by side and
being able to recognize one another helps develop relationships before
they are in the emergency situation.
Lt. Col. Diane Dunn, a Maine Army National Guard soldier who works for
Joint Force Headquarters said that the exercise has met every goal they
set out to accomplish, primarily networking and developing resources.
“Every single time you get military partners working side by side with
civilians they establish relationships, and that is probably the most
important thing,” said Dunn.
“Understanding who the leaders are, and what tasks belong to whom, so
when you have to support someone, you already know their strengths and
weaknesses and where you fit into that picture. Those experiences make
this exercise more valuable.”
During the last 13 months, Dunn has worked very closely with Maine
Emergency Management Agency Exercise Officer, Jeremy Damren. They worked
directly with NGB and NORTHCOMM to plan the event. He agreed that
communication is essential to developing working relationships.
“Many of our responders here would be the same people responding to our
neighboring states as well,” said Damren. “So now, we recognize these
faces and can hopefully work a bit closer than had we just shown up. I
think anytime you exchange business cards before an emergency its always
better than doing it during the emergency.”
Although Maine has not had anything to this scale happen yet, it could
happen. Emergency situations in New England, such as Hurricane Irene, or
Hurricane Sandy that required a multistate response, have already
happened, and this just helps train everyone to be better equipped.
Dunn, a native of Newburgh, Maine, said this training is the opportunity of a lifetime for the National Guard.
“It gives us the opportunity to not only understand the resources and
capabilities the civilians have, but also our role,” she said. “How we
support our civilians, and where we would fit into our communities and
to make sure our families and our community members are safe. Most
importantly, that can help response efforts like this.”
When a disaster strikes, trained, local emergency personnel respond
first. When the first responders have expended their resources, the
county comes in to assist. In a situation like Vigilant Guard, with
multiple competing priorities, whether it is sheltering people, clearing
roads, or just public safety in general, sometimes they too run out of
That’s when MEMA enters the picture. They have a designated planning
staff that is responsible for responding to emergencies. They can look
at all the resources state wide and see where things can be shared.
After the state exceeds all of their resources, they request National
Guard assistance, and mutual aid partners in neighboring states, and
The military doesn’t step in and take over the situation. They are there
to help aid and assist the first responders and other agencies already
in place, said Damren, who lives in Belgrade.
“The adjutant general, who manages both us and the Maine National Guard,
has said from the very beginning, that all disasters start local. So
this military takeover would never happen. What would happen is we would
Working side by side, military and civilian responders extract,
decontaminate and treat the victims at the collapsed building.
Meanwhile, other crews have been called in to respond to nearly 20
other emergency events throughout the state, from cybersecurity
breaches, to a contaminated ship coming into Portland. It took nearly
1,500 National Guard soldiers, hundreds of civilian medical and first
responders and international partners working together to help mitigate
Because events this extreme are not common in New England, this was an
opportunity to demonstrate the National Guard and civilian agencies
abilities to respond when called, and to train military soldiers for
their response, said Dunn.
“It gave us the opportunity to exercise our main job; to defend our
state and to respond in time of crisis,” she continued. “It is not
something we do all the time, so its important that we dust off those
plans and are familiar with what our tasks are and how we need to
continue to train and prepare so we can meet the call when it comes in.”
Similarly, Damren was very happy with the overall exercise.
“Being able to strengthen the military and civilian relationship and
reflect that we do all work together,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what
uniform you wear, we are all here to do a job, so let’s just get to
work, make people safe, and save lives.”