Vigilant Guard tests Homeland Response Force mission
April 21, 2013
CAMP GRUBER, Okla. (April 21, 2013) -- In the world of consequence management, preparing for a disaster is just as crucial as responding. For civilian and military responders, preparedness was the focus of effort as they trained to save lives this week during Vigilant Guard, April 15-19, at Camp Gruber near Muskogee, Okla.
"When we can work with those that we will work with in a disaster," said John Luther, emergency manager for Washington County, Arkansas. "It just makes us all more competent. We know one another, [we were] not strangers and, were more familiar with one another's techniques. The beauty of it is there will be lives saved for effort."
This exercise, designed to bring Guardsmen from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Louisiana together with civilian first responders, provided an opportunity for different agencies and organizations to work alongside one another in a simulated natural disaster.
"Not everyone here is from the same FEMA region," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Wallace of the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, "which is a huge plus, coming out of your comfort zone and working with other teams is realistic because if you have a large enough event, you will have to come out and respond elsewhere."
The different regions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency play an important role in disaster management, as the National Guard's Homeland Response Force, or HRF, mission is regionally based. The Joint Task Force 71 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), part of the Texas National Guard, is responsible for the FEMA Region VI HRF mission. Its function is to provide command and control to the subordinate assets in combating Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High Explosive, known as CBRNE, threats.
"Texas has the CBRNE piece of the exercise," said Col. Lee Schnell, commander of JTF-71 (MEB). "We are the response force. Our mission is to alert, assemble, and deploy in the FEMA Region VI."
The HRF mission, led by units like JTF-71 (MEB), is carried out by the support outfits trained to provide search and extraction, decontamination, and medical triage services. These CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages can deploy within six hours to a scene and are equipped to sustain long-term operations by sharing the burden of response between the states.
"The units are set up to work no more than 12 hours," said Lt. Jonathan Ballard, commander for the Louisiana CERFP. "That is about how much equipment they carry. When you get to work with other units you learn other battle rhythms transfer the mission to another unit as they come in so that we can run our 24-hour operation."
Vigilant Guard Arkansas is the first full-scale demonstration of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission, which was certified by the Department of Defense in October 2011. The three-day exercise featured a simulated earthquake scenario to test the cooperative and emergency response capabilities of all military and civilian personnel on site.
"We know we are the next door neighbors, the close ones there, the first responders," said John Luther, the Emergency Manager for Washington County, Arkansas. "We also know we don't have all the resources it may take to actually overcome a disaster in an area and knowing that the military is supporting us in that role is very, very important."
There are currently 10 National Guard-sourced HRF mission sets, one for each FEMA Region. This mobile and ready-trained capability boasts up to 570 Army and Air Guardsmen who will support the civil authorities in charge of saving lives in the event of an incident or natural disaster. When not deployed, the HRF personnel focus on planning, training, and exercising within their respective states.
"We want to have a good warm and fuzzy that we're leaving the folks of Texas in good hands," said Wallace. "At the end of the day it's all about the casualties. The sooner we can save their lives is the bottom line."