By Megan Locke Simpson, Fort Campbell CourierJune 5, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Within five minutes after a 911 call, emergency vehicles arrived in the vicinity of Fort Campbell Army Airfield. An F-3 tornado had just touched down on the north end of Fort Campbell, putting the installation's emergency plan into action.
The injured and deceased laid by vehicles and throughout the barracks off C Avenue, waiting for Fort Campbell Emergency Medical Services personnel to evacuate, triage and transport the affected Soldiers and civilians. Fort Campbell firefighters quickly began evacuating the wounded and tending to a nearby fuel tanker explosion.
And so began the response to a notional weather event that allowed Fort Campbell to conduct a full-scale exercise, Tuesday. The exercise, which began shortly before 8:30 a.m., continued throughout much of the day.
During that time frame, Army evaluators measured the installation's response to the simulated incident.
"What we're looking at is how well we do our job," said Installation Emergency Planner Danny Greene, who served as the exercise director. "We've got people evaluating our Emergency Operations Center, our incident command set-up here, our ambulance system and how it works and we're also looking at … some of our mortuary affairs and how we go through the process of collecting remains."
Fort Campbell conducts a full-scale exercise each year. Scenarios vary, but recent ones focused on antiterrorism and active shooters. Weather-related training events are often conducted using a tabletop exercise, but officials decided to focus this year's exercise around a tornado.
This particular training event meets mandatory requirements for the Army's Emergency Management Full-Scale Exercise as well as the U.S. Army Medical Command's mass casualty exercise requirement.
Exercises such as these provide not only enhanced training for on-post and other local organizations, but help provide a sense of coordination that can only be achieved by practicing a scenario on a larger scale, Greene said. Organizations ranging from Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and the Public Affairs Office on post, to the Clarksville Fire Department, Hopkinsville EMS and the American Red Cross all played a vital role.
"We get to exercise our memorandum of understanding agreement with our local partners," he said. "We're trying to comply with the outside agencies, so we can all work together and get things done."
Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team participated in the exercise along with some civilian role-players. More than 20 of these role-players were designated as injured, with more than a dozen dead.
Fort Campbell directorate and agency officials met for an After-Action Review, Wednesday, to discuss the strengths and weaknesses noted during the exercise. However, Greene said early Tuesday that all signs pointed to a successful training event.
"We have been exercising our Emergency Operations Center, our communications and the ability of first responders and first receivers to react to an emergency," he said. "Just seeing what we've got and since the exercise has only been going on a little over an hour, it seems to be going well." The Fort Campbell Fire Department played a major role in this exercise. Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Falsetto observed post firefighters in the first hour during which they took on multiple roles of evacuating the wounded from barracks, extinguishing the tanker fire and other health and safety functions during what he deemed a "realistic event." Falsetto said the No. 1 mission for firefighters in this type of scenario is to save lives and "stabilize the incident," then prioritize accordingly.
"We're looking at the ability to manage a scene with an unmanageable amount of injuries, so to speak," he said. "What these folks are doing is they're categorizing the injuries. They're prioritizing what they have to do. Taking care of the folks that need [to be] taken care of first, and then moving on from there."
A weather event, such as a tornado, likely would come with more warning than a man-made emergency. This factor alone makes this weather-related full-scale exercise different than previous full-scale exercises, Falsetto said.
"Typically with the tornado versus something like a terrorist attack, we have the ability to track the weather," he said. "We have the ability to track what's coming next. So we can work with that. When you're talking about dealing with some kind of terror event, man-made event, we may not know exactly what's coming next."
While tornadoes are in a sense more predictable, the effects of such storms can be catastrophic. An F-3 tornado touched down in Clarksville, Jan. 22, 1999, ravaging the downtown area. Damage totaled nearly $73 million. Fort Campbell is also susceptible to flooding, earthquakes, severe thunderstorms and fires. Greene rates Fort Campbell as very prepared for natural disasters, adding that first responders can learn a lot from this type of hands-on training.
"We have to have an all-hazards plan, and you've got to be prepared for anything that happens," Greene said. "So it's not just tornadoes, you've got to be ready for earthquakes … [we have to] make sure that we're ready to take care of whatever we can to protect the populous."