Annual drill prepares agencies for hurricane season

By Andrew SharbelApril 16, 2009

Annual drill prepares agencies for hurricane season
Col. James Larsen II, assistant chief of staff, G7, U.S. Army North; Col. Ben Hancock, deputy commander, Joint Task Force Civil Support; and, Maj. Gen. John Basilica, commander, U.S. Army North Operational Command Post, discuss the coordination of ac... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, April 16, 2009) -- During what has become an annual Rehearsal of Concept, or ROC, drill on hurricane relief operations, more than 150 participants from a wide variety of government agencies came together here yesterday and today to rehearse the course of action they would take to deal with a hurricane emergency.

The ROC drill was organized by U.S. Army North, the Army component of the U.S. Northern Command, as part of its mission to support civil authorities during disaster. Officials from the National Guard Bureau, U.S. Coast Guard, Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many others were present to lay out their respective courses of action in the event of a hurricane.

"The big thing it does is bring all the players and people involved in responding to an event like this together in one forum to allow them to discuss a variety of issues or concepts of operation," said Army Lt. Col. Travis Grigg, deputy defense coordinating officer for U.S. Army North's Region VI.

"When you get everyone together like this, it allows you to synchronize your efforts because it's like a machine in that you have a lot of moving parts; and, when you have that, it increases your potential risk of failure," said Grigg, whose region consists of Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

According to U.S. Army North officials, the exercise is designed to fully coordinate the support that active military forces could be asked to provide states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the event of a major hurricane.

"With a ROC drill like this one of the main purposes is to coordinate your efforts and movements to make sure there are no holes or gaps so you are moving in a unified DOD effort," Grigg said.

The exercise scenario begins at 120 hours before the landfall of a major hurricane and continues until at least 48 hours after landfall. This year's notional storm hits southern Florida before gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico and striking Alabama and Mississippi. The scenario is designed this way to provide a large number of agencies and states to present and go through their respective plans.

In the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, the U.S. was hit by 16 storms, eight of which were hurricanes. Five of those were considered major hurricanes, with Hurricane Ike being the strongest and making landfall just east of Galveston, Texas.

"Based on the things my boss learned here at the Department of the Army ROC drill, we took that and had our own Region VI ROC drill," Grigg said. "That is where we got down a little more at the tactical level with all of our players - our FEMA people, all of our state emergency management people, our National Guard folks and others, and we really honed in on that level with all those different players."

With Ike hitting Texas, Grigg said he witnessed, first-hand, the benefits of last year's ROC drill in preparing the necessary agencies for the storm.

"It turns out that Ike followed along with the same scenario; so, when we had to execute we were ready," Grigg said. "Now, it wasn't a perfect operation and we did have some issues we had to deal with while we were on the ground, but, had we not had the ROC drills, I think it would have been a much more difficult operation."

(Andrew Sharbel writes for the Fort Belvoir Eagle newspaper)