Force-protection exercise provides 'huge value' at Natick
A member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Mobile Emergency Response Support team attends to a simulated casualty during a May 10, 2012, antiterrorism/emergency management exercise at Natick Soldier Systems Center, Mass.

NATICK, Mass. (May 11, 2012) -- During the morning rush hour on a rainy Thursday, armed attackers in a blue van broke through the gate at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

One attacker was killed and two were wounded as the workforce was ordered into a lockdown in offices and laboratories across the 78-acre campus. Four buildings were evacuated near the parking lot where the van came to rest.

Later, a radiological device found in the van detonated, leaving two dead and 11 wounded. Survivors underwent decontamination on the scene, passed through triage, and were taken to a local hospital.

Fortunately, the May 10 event was simulated, not real. The scenario-based annual antiterrorism/emergency management exercise was designed to test personnel from NSSC, other state and federal agencies, and first responders from surrounding communities, who would react to an actual crisis situation on the installation.

Volunteers played authentic-looking casualties. Instead of blood, they were covered with makeup.

"In the real world, any sort of major incident, it's going to involve everyone," said Lt. Col. Frank Sobchak, Natick garrison commander. "To be able to train with everyone and have everyone participate, it's a huge value for us. It's value for them, also."

In addition to NSSC personnel, the exercise involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Natick Fire Department, Natick Police Department, MedStar Ambulance, Westover Air Force Base Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Massachusetts National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear team, Massachusetts State Police, and Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick.

"There's absolutely no way we can do this without the collaboration and cooperation of everyone who's here," Sobchak said. "On a small base like we are, we really have to work with all of our local partners in order to make sure that we have a successful exercise. I definitely want to thank all of our participants and all of the local teams that came and helped us out."

FEMA's Mobile Emergency Response Support team, a national asset based in Maynard, Mass., welcomed the chance to hone its skills.

"We have the opportunity to take our decontamination system out and put it under a stress test, using their casualties and their exercises to run our equipment and make sure it works properly," said Tom Spain, who led the FEMA MERS effort. "We've been doing it with Natick at least for the last six years."

James Antonangeli, also of FEMA MERS, said the team is always "testing our readiness and our capabilities. Things work well in theory sometimes, but unless you get out there and practice it, you never know. We're practicing for the big game, which, hopefully, we never have to show up to."

Sobchak saw enormous benefit in working annually with FEMA and Natick's other local, state and federal partners.

"We went (through) everything from casualty collection to weapons of mass destruction detonation to emergency management of the entire scenario," Sobchak said. "It's something that we do in order to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on base."

Page last updated Mon May 14th, 2012 at 07:50