Dirty bomb scenario unites Fort Campbell, community agencies
May 17, 2012
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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (May 17, 2012) -- Smoke rolls from a charred vehicle, as injured Soldiers cry for help.
The scene is not Afghanistan -- it's Fort Campbell -- and the fictional scenario is part of the annual Full-Scale Antiterrorism Exercise on post.
A Radioactive Dispersal Device (or dirty bomb) detonated in a car located at the Division Parade Field parking lot, uniting both on- and off-post agencies to respond to the incident, May 10.
"The explosion -- it basically disperses the radiation," explained Fort Campbell Emergency Management Specialist Jay Fangman.
About 20 Soldiers role played as casualties during the scenario, which involved the Fort Campbell Fire Department, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, or BACH, the Emergency Operations Center and other garrison organizations, as well as other local fire departments and first responders.
After the initial explosion, EMTs and firefighters arrived to help treat fictional injuries assigned to the Soldiers and decontaminate those located within the bomb's immediate area. The scenario expanded, as wounded Soldiers were triaged and sent to BACH for further care. Meanwhile, decision makers monitored activity from the EOC and gave further instructions to participants.
The point of the exercise is practice and communication, because situations like this one or last year's active shooter scenario are all possibilities in a world where military installations and Soldiers and their Families are terror targets. The exercise also allows post officials to pinpoint deficiencies or areas of concern, brought to light in the After-Action Review held Friday. In the event of a real emergency situation, post officials hope an exercise such as this one prepares responders to think rationally and clearly in case of a real event.
"A live exercise like this is an optimal training environment for all the agencies involved," said Garrison Antiterrorism Officer Bill Fedak. "The importance of it is to prove our proficiency in a number of areas. With the large amount of agencies involved in handling a situation such as this, they all get an equal opportunity not only to work their internal proficiencies, but to work together as a team."
While any shortfalls noted during the exercise will be addressed internally, Fangman said the actions of the first responders impressed him throughout the day.
"That's always the point of the exercise, to find out where you can get better," he said. "The relationship with the first responders, the EMS, fire, law enforcement -- how they worked together at the scene was good."
Hopkinsville firefighter Spence Sowell said getting to participate in such an exercise is not only valuable training but fun as well. Sowell wore one of the hazardous materials, or hazmat, suits during the exercise, which is hot, but also necessary to prevent radiation poisoning.
"This is as close as you can be to a real situation," he said. "We've been down here cross training with [Fort Campbell Fire Department] for the last two or three months. Every two weeks we've been down here training with them. That way, we're all familiar with everybody."
If a real emergency occurred, training is essential because it gives first responders the ability to act quickly and calmly while protecting themselves and helping the wounded.
"Training takes over and you do what you're supposed to do," he added.
The dirty bomb scenario took Fort Campbell agencies about three months to plan, and satisfies the Army's Emergency Management Full-Scale Exercise and Antiterrorism Full-Scale Exercise requirement. More than 30 on- and off-post agencies participated in helping during the scenario, whether at the incident site, sharing intelligence or monitoring activity at the Emergency Operations Center.
"As long as everybody involved learned something and fixes one thing, it's been a success," Fangman said.
Emergency Management completes exercises on all emergency situations that might affect Fort Campbell at some point, whether weather or terrorist related. Terrorism scenarios are most often selected for the full-scale exercise, because they are easier to replicate and allow first responders to participate easily.
"Like a tornado, you can't really replicate that damage," Fangman said. "So, on a tornado exercise, we would probably do that as a tabletop, where you bring all the players around and you talk through it we do exercise all of our hazard plans in one form or another, either tabletop, command post exercise or our full-scale."