Post stands up Family Assistance Center
Sally Sowell, outreach branch manager, ACS, center, talks with other Fort Riley officials during a full-scale protection exercise June 27 at the FAC, located at the ACS.

FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Should a major disaster ever strike Fort Riley, Soldiers and Families have a place to go for help at the Family Assistance Center and the Displaced Persons Shelter.

Practicing the establishment of the center and shelter were part of the Fort Riley Regional Full-Scale Protection Exercise June 27 to 28.

More than 700 installation personnel and 20 emergency response organizations from the Central Flint Hills Region participated in the exercise with the goal to implement, test and evaluate all of Fort Riley's emergency management processes and systems.

Each day of the exercise presented a new catastrophe with different situations arising. A simulated helicopter crash that initiated a wildfire took place June 27, and June 28 saw a tornado hitting the installation.

The Family Assistance Center, which would provide information and resources to Families in a time of crisis, was set up both days. The first day, the FAC was at the Army Community Service building.

"Basically what we did today during the exercise is we had (role-player) Families coming into the ACS saying they had a Family member they thought was in the crash," said Sally Sowell, outreach branch manager, ACS. "They heard about a crash and came in here to get information, and then we provide them with what we can and support. We either start obtaining the information for them the best that we can or refer them to a subject matter expert."

Several subject-matter experts included officials with the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center; Child, Youth and School Services; the chaplain's office and Army Emergency Relief.

FAC also practiced its ability to continue operating in the event the facility became unavailable.

"Something may occur, like we lose water or electricity," Sowell said. "We tested if we could get (Public Works) generators up here and continue to function without electricity … We've got the emergency lights up."

In the event an actual disaster affects the ACS building, FAC will set up at an alternate location. Other locations for FAC include Riley's Conference Center and the Soldier and Family Assistance Center on Main Post. The alternate location at Riley's Conference Center was tested on the second day of the exercise.

The Displaced Persons Shelter, which served as temporary housing for those who lost their homes in the mock tornado, was set up at King Field House on day two of the exercise.

"We've never set up to this extent before," said Rex Willey, deputy director, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "We know we could get 200 cots in (the Displaced Persons Shelter) easily, but what we're trying to do is see if we were really pushed to get a lot of people in here, how many (cots) we could get in, and we're trying to get as close to 500 as possible."

Medical aid from a supporting unit also would be provided at the shelter.

"They'll make the (decision) if somebody needs to be transferred to (Irwin Army Community Hospital) or a medical facility," Willey said.

Participants at the FAC and Displaced Persons Shelter said the exercise tested their abilities to aid others in times of need.

"It's really important to know that all of the services are in place should anything seriously happen, like, for real, and practice makes perfect, I think," said Patti Walker, who served as a volunteer role player for the exercise.

Walker, who was known as "Mrs. Smith," during the exercise, played the role of a concerned Family member on day one and a donator for tornado victims on day two at the FAC locations.

"I'm going to be donating like big stuff - stuff they wouldn't be expecting, like a refrigerator. You know, like what the heck am I going to do with this kind of stuff," Walker said. "And then I'm going to demand paperwork so I can submit it to the (Internal Revenue Service) and be like one of those difficult donation persons, like you're not going to turn this away. You're going to keep it."

Volunteer role players were given scenarios and guidelines for the exercise, but they also were encouraged to ad lib for the exercise to be fully effective.

"It's been great. We've got a lot of great volunteer role players that are really testing the resources," Sowell said. "We're learning a lot, and that's what this exercise is about … I think we're going to be much better prepared in the future with doing these exercises."

Page last updated Fri July 13th, 2012 at 00:00