By John B. SnyderApril 24, 2013
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. - The Watervliet Arsenal conducted a two-hour antiterrorism exercise here on April 23 that brought together more than 75 first responders from Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga Counties. This exercise tested arsenal and community first responders' ability to react to a simulated terrorist threat involving chemical, biological, and radiological agents.
The exercise coordinator, Arsenal Fire Chief John Whipple, said the arsenal began integrating community first responders, such hazardous material and EMS teams, about three years ago into the arsenal's training plan for antiterrorism exercises.
"We knew that if there was ever a crisis on the arsenal that we would immediately make a call out to fellow first responders at local and state levels for support," Whipple said. "These types of multi-echelon exercises allow us to better understand the unique capabilities that each response team may bring to a real-world incident."
The goal of the exercise was to coordinate a quick response to a simulated terrorist attack that required decontamination of radiation, an unknown powder substance, and a sulfur dioxide leak.
Schenectady County Fire Coordinator John Nuzback said the exercise was planned well before last week's bombing in Boston, but that the events from last week only solidify just how important it is for community first responders to train as a team.
"Equipment and well-trained personnel are important to providing a quick and complete response to a crisis situation," Nuzback said. "But it is the teamwork and the relationships that we build through these exercises that are most important."
Prior to the first vehicle arriving, the arsenal had to establish an incident command post that was manned by Stephen Bogart, assistant fire chief for the Watervliet Arsenal. From that command post, Bogart had to quickly assess the large volume of information flowing in from inside the arsenal fence line as well as from outside the fence line.
Once Bogart developed a firm situational awareness of the threat and of the capability flowing into the arsenal, he was able to assign the right mix of capability to the immediate requirement. To assist Bogart was John J. Walsh, the Albany County Emergency Management Liaison.
"It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to handle the response unless I had a qualified liaison to work with me due to the large amounts of information and coordination that was required for the exercise," Bogart said.
Once the last hose was rolled up and the training site cleared, Whipple reflected on the morning's exercise.
"This was a great exercise that brought together more than 75 experienced first responders who came with millions of dollars of equipment to train as one team," Whipple said. "What the casual observer often misses in these types of exercises is the difficulty of providing command and control, as well as the integration and synchronization of various capabilities in a real-time scenario."
During the after action review, Whipple thanked the local and state emergency first responders, to include those who stood back and took notes. There were almost as many observers and controllers as there were exercise participants. The robust oversight of the exercise ensured that every lesson learned, positive or one that needs improvement, could be captured and then learned from.
"We know that after this exercise that we are better prepared to respond to a crisis than we were yesterday," Whipple said. "The community should know that the amount of capability brought to the arsenal for this exercise in regards to command and control, equipment, and personnel, is what they should expect to arrive on their street if ever needed."
This exercise was directed by the Arsenal's higher headquarters, TACOM Life Cycle Management Command.
The Watervliet Arsenal (pronounced water-vleet") is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility located in Watervliet, New York. The Arsenal is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. The arsenal will celebrate its 200th Anniversary on July 14, 2013.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $100 million.