By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterApril 19, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When a crisis hits the Wiregrass area, be it a natural disaster or otherwise, Fort Rucker's relationships with the surrounding communities help save lives.
Fort Rucker's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security holds various mutual aid agreements with 10 of its surrounding counties, as well as with numerous organizations, including the American Red Cross, in order to keep the Wiregrass and the post safe in times of crisis, according to Willie Worsham, Fort Rucker emergency manager.
Many of the agreements include fire and law support, explosives-detecting canine support, hazardous material support and more, and the reason for the agreements comes down to concurrent jurisdiction, said Worsham.
"Outside agencies are not allowed to come on to the main cantonment area (on Fort Rucker) unless requested," said the emergency manager, but because of mutual aid agreements between the various agencies and counties, support can be requested from both sides of the fence.
One of the most recent examples of agreements between Fort Rucker and the surrounding communities was a fire that occurred in Brantley, located in Crenshaw County, March 25.
During the fire, support was requested by the state to help support, and the installation didn't hesitate to send help, said Worsham.
"The state requested some support from us because it was overwhelming their assets, and we were able to supply a couple of fire trucks and the manpower to help stabilize that situation," he said, adding that providing the support of equipment and manpower are just some of the ways the agreements aid the community.
"It can be the same way on the return if you have (an incident) on Fort Rucker that requires the resources that (the installation) doesn't have," said James Brown, Coffee County Emergency Management Agency director. "Not everybody just has a fire truck sitting around, so we're able to come out and support that, too, if needed."
Jurisdiction can often play a significant role in when it comes to which agencies can respond to a situation where, but with mutual aid agreements across the counties, the response becomes less about who is in control and more about who can get their first, which is vital to saving lives, said Worsham.
When an emergency occurs, depending on where the incident happens -- on or off the installation -- the first agencies to respond to the situation will set up an incident command, said the emergency manager.
"If we have an incident on federal or leased property, Coffee County or Dale County may arrive first, so they'll set up the incident command, then transfer command to the federal jurisdiction once they arrive, he said. "It's just like when we had the March 1, (2007) tornado (in Enterprise), Fort Rucker was heavily involved, even though it was off the installation," said Worsham. "We went to all of their meetings, we supplied light sets, we had personnel take their own personal leave and go out to help with the cleanup efforts, and search and rescue efforts."
"A lot of these things, nobody can do by themselves, so having a great asset like Rucker here to support that is just fantastic for us locals," added Brown. "It also helps the (installation) out by giving them assets they don't have to have on the installation, as well."
For example, Fort Rucker, at any given time, has three ambulances that are located on the installation, so in the event of mass casualty event, without the support of outside agencies, the installation would become overwhelmed, said Worsham.
"With our agreements with the local area, I have the ability to have 25 ambulances here within the golden hour -- that first hour that we can possibly save lives," said the emergency manager. "Those are the types of agreements that we've worked out and made available to each other."
Another way the agreements help the installation and surrounding counties support each other is through exercises conducted by both the outside communities, as well as the installation. Throughout the year, the surrounding counties and Fort Rucker participate in at least a dozen exercises to test various factors, such as response and capability, said Brown.
"Each county is required to do three exercises a year, and if you multiply that with the number of counties around us, that can give you about a dozen a year, at least, but that's just what we're required to do. That doesn't encompass what we're going to do," said the Coffee County EMA director.
"We've actually conducted division-wide exercises here on the installation where we involved all of the counties coming onto the installation (to participate)," added Worsham.
The exercises allow Fort Rucker to be able to build strong relationships with the surrounding communities, which in turn allows a better response when a disaster occurs, said the emergency manager.
"Because of the relationship that we've got around here, we've been able to make it to where if it's life and safety, we don't have to get approval for a mission," said Worsham. "We can actually deploy under the Immediate Response Authority, so that we can respond within the first 48 hours without approval. It's just a really good working relationship that we've got with Fort Rucker, the counties and the state."
"This is community and a family -- I feel like we really are," added Jessica Schweiger, Alabama EMA Division B coordinator. "Fort Rucker has its employees come from all over our division, so we all feel like a family. When it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us, so we all come together as that community."