USARPAC's Joint Task Force Homeland Defense conducts Pandemic Flu Exercise
HONOLULU - Robert Latham, Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense support team member, leads the discussion during the table top exercise July 28 during Lightning Rescue 09, a joint pandemic influenza interagency exercise.

HONOLULU - United States Army, Pacific's Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) joined other DoD and interagency partners July 28 at a conference in Waikiki to discuss and train on interoperability during Exercise Lightning Rescue 09.

Lightning Rescue is an annual pandemic influenza preparedness and response exercise, which gives joint civil-military response teams the opportunity to validate and synchronize federal, state and local agencies' preparedness plans in case of a pandemic, according to Col. David Norton, chief of Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense for USARPAC.

"Pandemic influenza is a real threat," Norton said. "Exercising cooperation and coordination between DoD and our interagency partners to conduct Defense Support of Civil Authorities operations is essential for our nation. Preparing now can limit the severity of a pandemic and save lives."

The exercise, conducted by the JTF-HD with dozens of interagency organizations participating, runs from July 27-31 and includes a staff exercise, table-top exercise and a Subject Matter Expert Exchange. The overall goal is to help the agencies train in medical response, disaster planning and interagency communications.

For the personnel working for JTF-HD, Lightning Rescue is a chance to meet the other key players and an opportunity to see where the military can best fit as part of the overall preparedness plan.

"We want to make sure all individuals get to know each other because that is the first step of any good organization," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commanding general, USARPAC. "What I hope we get from this exercise is a good understanding of each other's capabilities and how we can best approach the circumstance that we may possibly face. One thing is for sure; those of us inside and outside the government are expected to be prepared."

During the table-top exercise, members of the joint civil-military response team talked about seven main topics, including setting up a Unified Coordination Group structure, exercising and assessing the ability of the State and DoD to integrate and synchronize health protection levels, sending out coordinated messages to the public and coordinating and integrating quarantine and isolation measures.

Subject matter experts from the State of Hawaii Department of Health, Center for Disease Control, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Healthcare Association of Hawaii joined members of the DoD to discuss these topics.

Additionally, foreign delegates from Japan and Vietnam were on hand to participate as observers to collect lessons learned for their own disaster management planning efforts.

During this year's exercise, civil-military authorities worked with a simulated scenario where they are reacting to the aftermath of a second-wave pandemic of H1NI that has swept through Hawaii killing a large number of people.

Even though in real life nothing like this scenario has happened, said Dr. Sarah Park, chief of Hawaii Department of Health's Disease Outbreak Control Division, Hawaii is still in the first wave and the virus is still a credible threat.

"Here in Hawaii, we've always been trying to respond (to H1N1)," she said. "But instead of trying to find every case out there, we are trying to figure out when this virus is going to change."

Because the threat of H1N1 is still prevalent in the Pacific, Lt. Col. Michael Swalko, chief of preventative medicine at Tripler Army Medical Center, said people should take the proper precautionary steps in case the worst should happen.

"There are things that you need to think about if we have a pandemic here," Swalko said. "Do you have enough supplies in the house, things like water and dry goods' What would you do if you lose power' These are the things that you have to think about now. You always have to think about the worse case scenario and be prepared."

Swalko explained there are several measures that everyone can take to decrease transmission such as coughing in your sleeve when you sneeze, washing your hands frequently, using social distancing when necessary, or wearing a protective mask when traveling.

"H1N1 has had a huge impact on our society," Park added. "This virus won't stop until we take protective measures, and the best protective measure is to stay home when you're sick. That's how we keep from spreading this virus around."

Lightning Rescue is one of two JTF-HD exercises conducted annually to test federal, state and local preparedness plans. The second is Makani Pahili, which tests hurricane preparedness.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16