Exercise prepares post's response for tornadoes
February 24, 2012
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Garrison Commander William J. Clark and the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security facilitated Fort Riley's quarterly tornado table top exercise Feb. 15 in an effort to test, coordinate and synchronize all of the installation's emergency management processes and systems.
The four-hour exercise has been in the works since December and required the efforts of more than 100 people, including representatives from every major directorate on post, as well as Riley and Geary counties.
With tornado season right around the corner -- April 1 to Oct. 31 -- the leadership at Fort Riley is taking preparation seriously, said Steven Crusinberry, chief, Operations and Plans Division, DPTMS.
"Unlike a snowstorm, we don't know when a tornado is going to hit. We have little to no warning," Crusinberry said.
The year 2011 was the deadliest tornado season in American history since 1936; there were 549 fatalities due to 1,725 tornadoes, according to Crusinberry. Over the last five years, there have been five severe spring and summer regional storms: two tornadoes, two floods and a hail storm.
The June 11, 2008, tornado that hit Chapman did roughly $160 million worth of damage and resulted in one fatality. This tornado was followed several hours later by another tornado that cost Manhattan about $60 million, Crusinberry recalled.
The exercise was intended to test all of the post's early warning systems and shelters to make sure Families will have the support they need to get through a time of crisis, like a tornado or a flood, but according to Crusinberry, Fort Riley is concerned with more than just the people on the installation.
"It's not just Fort Riley; it's the region. With 9,000 Soldiers, Families and (Department of Defense) civilians living off the installation in 26 small cities and towns, if one of those little towns gets hit by a tornado, it affects us all. We grind to a halt while we try to figure out who was in the town, are they OK and what can we do to help," he explained.
DPTMS coordinated with the following five primary command and control nodes, or C2 nodes, during the exercise, some of which are specifically designed to help Families in the event of an emergency:
• Press Information Center (PIC)
• Casualty Assistance Center (CAC)
• Incident Command Post (ICP)
• Family Assistance Center (FAC)
• Hospital Emergency Operations Center (IACH)
"The good thing about this exercise for Soldiers and Families is we are setting up and testing and exercising those centers that work explicitly for them," Crusinberry said.
Instead of having to drive to separate places to find help after an emergency, Soldier and Family resources have been consolidated in a couple different locations. For example, Families entering the FAC would have a way to access their USAA account, get an ID card, receive minor medical care, apply for an emergency loan, talk to Picerne Military Housing, meet with a Office of the Staff Judge Advocate representative, talk to a chaplain and/or lie down in a resting area.
Another vital part of the Feb. 15 exercise was the setup of the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, at the Sustainment Operations Center. In the event of an emergency, the EOC is the hub of all reporting, coordination and logistical moves.
Within the EOC, 41 members of the Crisis Action Team, led by the garrison commander, assemble and begin tracking the incident and providing oversight over recovery operations. The EOC is where Clark would stand up the CAT, make decisions, give guidance, push resources and influence recovery from a potential emergency incident, Crusinberry said.
Ultimately, he said, the goal of every table top exercise is to ensure the C2 nodes are ready, communication works and all agencies, directorates and partners walk away knowing what their roles and responsibilities are in the event of a tornado.
Practicing the battle drills, tweaking the standard operating procedures and refreshing the mind is crucial to Fort Riley's preparedness and ability to recover quickly, Crusinberry said.
"If we don't stop every now and then and spend a little mental energy prepping for something that may never happen, then we won't be very good at it. Responding to a crisis is a skill," he said. "We want to recover and get Fort Riley back on its feet in conducting its mission of training, deploying and taking care of Soldiers."
After visiting and inspecting each one of the C2 nodes, Clark and the CAT convened in the EOC. A communications exercise linked the C2 nodes using Defense Connect Online with webcam, phone and SharePoint.
Together, the team reviewed the Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., after-action review of the 2010 New Year's Eve tornado that displaced 36 Soldiers and Families and did more than $25 million in damage.
Evaluating its lessons learned, the CAT analyzed what went right and what went wrong for Fort Leonard Wood, applied it to Fort Riley and attempted to grade the installation.
"When it's all said and done, we came out pretty good. There are some things that we still need to work on, but overall in the grand scheme of things, we're in pretty good shape," Crusinberry said.
The team also reviewed its tornado battle drill, the commander's critical information requirements and early warning systems.
This year, Fort Riley has added three giant voice towers, for a total of 40, and two tornado sirens, for a total of 19, said Ward Philips, chief, plans and emergency management branch, DPTMS.
"Fort Riley is doing everything we can to keep people safe. Tornadoes are dangerous things," Philips said. "We want people to feel safer because we do have plans in place, and we do practice."
Clark said he was pleased with the outcome of the exercise, but does have concerns about alternate power sources for the C2 nodes and the information technology backbone of the installation.
The C2 nodes received praise from Clark; he said they were all fully functional.
"They can communicate with each other; they are properly staffed, they understand what they are responsible for, and they are prepared to handle the situation," he said.
"We had a great day in that we were able to exercise our command and control nodes, we were able to identify some shortfalls that we can work on, and we were also able to identify where we can improve our battle drills, so we can be more efficient if an emergency does happen," Clark said. "So, it was a good day of training, but we have a ways to go to get to where we want to be. There's more work to do."
To learn more about how to prepare for an emergency such as a tornado, visit www.readyarmy.mil.