The specter of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in which 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks left more than 170 people dead, loomed large in the national consciousness as global media flashed images into American homes preparing for their Thanksgiving repasts. The gravity of this event was not ignored by the leadership of Joint Task Force Civil Support, based out of Fort Monroe. Sudden Response 2009 (SR-09), held Feb. 27 to March 6 at Naval Station Norfolk, addressed what to do if something similar happened on American soil.
The Mumbai attacks were carried out by a small team of armed fanatics that targeted the tourist portion of India's financial capital and largest city. For SR09, the scenario was translated to Orlando, Fla., also a city of major tourist attractions.
"For this exercise we are concentrating on three things," said Air Force Lt. Col. Hans Lageschulte, Deputy Director of Training, Readiness, and Exercises. "The first focus is to support an exercise designed to ensure the readiness of the Defense Coordinating Officers; secondly, to certify Task Force Medical for their chemical, biological radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive mission; and finally, to review and validate our internal processes to effectively command and control 5,000 members of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosive Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF)."
To create a true worst-case scenario, exercise planners added the terrorist use of radiation dispersal devices - "dirty bombs" - to a series of explosions at major gathering centers in the city as well as important highway junctions.
The result was city in chaos, but boxed in by damaged infrastructure and plumes of radioactive smoke. It was a true test of JTF-CS' skills and training.
"Whenever any crisis occurs in America, there is a hierarchy of capabilities that are explored before DOD can commit assets," said Cmdr. Kirk Hibbert, JTF-CS Chief of Plans and Orders. "Can the city resolve it' Can the state resolve it' Can a mobilized National Guard force resolve it'
If none of the above applies, federal assistance is requested. What JTF-CS does is coordinate and control DOD assets that the primary federal agency requests to help resolve the crisis, said Hibbert. "Aeromedical airlift, search and rescue and support to critical infrastructure -- these are just a few of the capabilities JTF-CS can provide if needed."
"Many of these issues have been tested in the past during other exercises," said Hibbert. "We have created playbooks that address these issues that can be applied to any city in America."
Playbooks, the CBRNE planners' bible, spell out the chapter and verse for response timelines and the sequence of events. The Joint Operations Center runs smoothly, thanks to these playbooks that allow the JTF-CS team to achieve maximum mission efficiency.
As proof of this efficiency improvement process, while the JTF-CS team conducts exercises several times every year to update and maintain their checklists with the most current information, SR09 had an added variable. The JTF-CS tested a "forward light" concept. Forward light means that fewer people are deployed to the scene than normal.
The smaller forward element has a smaller footprint as a result because the numbers of personnel needed to support a forward element are also reduced. Forward light can also mean fewer transportation requirements, expediting the final phase of deployment known as Joint Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (JRSOI) which is the critical link between deployment and employment of forces in the affected area.
According to the newest edition of the JTF-CS' Tactical Standard Operating Procedure, or TACSOP, the forward element represents the command and control capability of JTF-CS and is the vital link for the primary federal agency when DOD assets are needed. Because of the amount of logistical support required to maintain a large forward element, JTF-CS believes a smaller team would conceivably allow JTF-CS to deploy sooner.
Sudden Response 2009 also focused on the certification of Task Force Medical (TF Med) to become a part of the CCMRF. TF Med's unique mission is to provide the CCMRF with health service support and force health protection to DOD forces. Because all CBRNE events require medical augmentation to mitigate the crisis, coordinating all DOD medical support under a Task Force within JTF-CS was considered another way to improve efficiency.
"This goes beyond providing command and control of medical assets and decontamination efforts," said Capt. Joseph Hockmuth, TF Med battle captain. "TF Med will also be responsible for distribution of medical supplies, medical equipment repair and even veterinary services."
Hockmuth added that TF Med is also charged with providing logistical support to evacuation efforts in or near a disaster site. Because one of the simulated explosions in the SR09 scenario destroyed a major metropolitan hospital, TF Med planned the search and rescue and evacuation of wounded. With approximately 650 service members from all medical disciplines represented, he said he expected TF Med to play a greater role in future CBRNE exercises and any actual CBRNE events that may occur at a later date.
If terrorists attack the homeland like they did in Mumbai, the response will require a large number of organizations with a myriad of capabilities. The Department of Defense is capable of assisting recovery efforts with a whole host of planners, logisticians, medical professionals, and air crews dedicated to saving lives, preventing injury and providing temporary critical life support.