First responders: All Hazards Full Scale Exercise puts U.S., host nation teams to the test
September 11, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany - As Wiesbaden community members went about their daily lives Aug. 29-30, more than 100 U.S. and host nation first responders sprang into action to confront a host of hostile actions.
Part of annual requirements to test the garrison's Antiterrorism and Emergency Management Plan, the All Hazards Full Scale Exercise set a series of simulated challenges for the military and civilian teams including active shooters, explosions and the taking of hostages.
"We do these kinds of exercises to be prepared," said Col. David Carstens, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden commander. "The reality is bad things do happen, and we want to be prepared for any contingency."
As observers closely monitored the action, Soldier and civilian first responders rushed to the scene of an explosion in the Clay Kaserne parking garage to assess the situation and to assist the injured. U.S. and host nation police, paramedics and firefighters arrived on the scene, a command post and security perimeter were quickly established, triage operations were put in place and initial first aid was rendered.
"We have new structures on Clay Kaserne -- one being the parking garage which is five stories high and the other being the General Shalikashvili Mission Command Center -- the largest structure on the airfield," said Robert Thomas, USAG Wiesbaden's chief of plans and operations for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
Less than an hour after the initial explosion in the parking garage, "hostiles" began shooting their way into the Shali Center (soon to be the new Mission Command Center for U.S. Army Europe) "killing" several people on their way to taking three people hostage deep within the facility.
"With senior leaders to be housed in the building, it is crucial that we test and evaluate our capabilities to respond to emergencies in both of these new structures," said Thomas, "and that we review our procedures for conducting joint operations with our host nation partners.
"As we do not have the full array of first responders, we rely on host nation support … and synchronized capability to protect our community members," Thomas explained.
"This was one of the more complex scenarios we have rehearsed," said the garrison's commander. "Also, this exercise is the result of a year of preparation. In a way it's the capstone of our antiterrorism program, from an emergency aspect."
While U.S. and host nation first responders consistently train and work together to provide force protection and security -- taking part in regular active shooter response training, crime prevention support and daily medical and fire prevention assistance -- the All Hazards exercise provided an extreme test of their abilities to function efficiently together, exercise planners said. In addition to testing various aspects of the garrison's Emergency Management Plan -- emergency response to new facilities on Clay Kaserne, implementation of a Barrier Plan and Quick Reaction Force activation, among other facets -- the exercise also saw the use of a new Telephone Alerting System, whereby information could be shared and passed on quickly to multiple recipients. "It was fielded to three garrisons this year," said Thomas, explaining that it is a Defense Department program which is part of the Installation Protection Program.
"The joint exercise/training between the American authorities and German Polizei was a very professionally planned and executed event," said West Hessen Polizei Director Volker Pfeiffer, commander of the Special Incident Structure Organization during the exercise. "The exercise demonstrated that there were extremely qualified and capable forces on both sides in operation. The existing trustworthy and cooperative relationships between the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden and Wiesbaden Polizei were affirmed. We can count on one another."
Safeguarding lives is the highest priority in such situations, said Pfeiffer.
"That demands a professional approach based on a thorough assessment of every situation," Pfeiffer said. "The success of an operation depends on the jointly determined actions of all the first responders -- especially the special forces of the German police (SWAT teams working closely with the negotiators) and the U.S. security forces."
That's why it's crucial that joint training is conducted, Pfeiffer said, "that way potential issues can be identified and addressed.
"The exercise was also important to clarify the areas of responsibility between the German Police and the U.S. authorities," said Pfeiffer. "We're on the right path. … We'll continue to work to improve this cooperation."
"Here's what made the biggest impression on me today," said Carstens, "the outstanding partnership of the host nation first responders, the fantastic cooperation with Polizei forces, medical personnel and also with our own medical clinic.
"The hard part of the exercise starts now," added Carstens, as members of the command gathered immediately afterwards to take a first look at how well all parties responded to the critical situation.
Evaluators from the Installation Management Command-Europe and observers from U.S. Army Europe were expected to provide formal feedback within a week, and an after action assessment is slated for mid-September, DPTMS officials said.
"Do we need to improve?" asked the garrison's commander. "Yes, always -- that's why we do the exercises." (Anemone Rueger contributed to this report.)