Honing emergency responder skills
Lt. Col. Chris Hart, commander of the 834th Transportation Battalion and MOTCO, heads the Emergency Operations Center during Coyote Shield 2011, July 18 – 22. (U.S. Army photo)

The men and women of the 843th Transportation Battalion at Military Ocean Terminal Concord, Calif., were highly inconvenienced this week from their normal port operations, but with good reason. The battalion spent July 18 " 22 applying acquired training and skills to a series of antiterrorism, force protection and emergency response scenarios under the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s Coyote Shield 2011 exercise.

The exercise is designed to test and enable battalion leadership, staff and installation personnel to hone their skills by responding to a variety of emergency situations not normally encountered during their daily routines. CS ’11 scenarios included intrusions by unauthorized personnel, protesters, suspicious packages, building fires, chemical spills and mass casualty events to name a few.

“Coyote Shield is an excellent opportunity for us to exercise and evaluate our antiterrorism and force protection postures,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hart, commander of the 834th.

Working in partnership with local authorities of Contra Costa County, battalion members responded to situations that could possibly occur in today’s world.

This year’s exercise kicked off with a simulated 6.4 earthquake resulting in downed power lines, buildings, roads and bridge structure failures. After the “earthquake” hit, the battalion set up their Emergency Operations Center comprised of representatives from the directorate of emergency services, public works, operations, logistics, plans, information technology and security, to name a few. Each EOC member assessed events as they occurred, communicated with local authorities and rendered recommendations to the commander to resolve emerging issues.

“During this exercise, and especially in the event of a real-world disaster, our first priority is for the safety of our people,” Hart said. “Then we address our capabilities to assist local communities and at the same time assess our strategic port capabilities to conduct operations for SDDC.”

If an actual disaster were to occur and diminish MOTCO’s port capabilities, battalion leadership has access to nine other ports throughout the west coast for transshipment of military equipment. Out of the nine other ports, five are primary strategic seaports, including MOTCO, and five are alternate seaports within the state, giving the battalion additional capabilities for port operations.

“My responsibility is to make sure we can perform our mission here and at any other seaport within the state,” Hart said. “We need to be able to setup port operations at one of the other alternate seaports if needed.”

MOTCO’s capabilities extend beyond port operations. If the battalion were to experience a real-world natural disaster, the unit has personnel and assets to send out to local communities and assist with first responder activities. The battalion’s police force and fire department personnel can provide emergency medical technicians, or paramedics, to assist county emergency responders. The battalion can also assist communities in storing needed medical supplies in their hardened storage facilities.

“I think the professionalism and experience of our people will play a major support role to local communities here if a natural disaster were to actually occur,” said Dennis Timmons, director of emergency services for the 834th. “Our day-to-day business in dealing with stress and managing multiple events simultaneously helps prepare us to effectively assist county officials. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ we’ll be called to assist, but with California located on a fault zone, it may be a matter of when we will be needed.”

If events required additional Soldiers, the 834th also has the ability to request Army Reserves personnel from the Deployment Support Command.

“In the past, we have worked with elements from every brigade in the DSC,” Hart said. “Just in this calendar year alone we have had about 500 Army and Navy active duty and Reservists come to MOTCO for training.”

“Having an outside set of eyes on our personnel enables us to dedicate all of our unit and installation personnel to the exercise and produces a more holistic effect.” Hart said.

About 140 personnel, including contractors, are assigned to the 834th. MOTCO is one of two seaports owned by SDDC specifically designed for ammunition transshipments in the country.

The battalion’s higher headquarters, the 596th Transportation Brigade, Sunny Point, N.C., went through a similar exercise last month called Point Defender 2011.

Page last updated Wed July 20th, 2011 at 12:49