FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- The call came over the radio that an explosion at Sadowski Center had left several people dead or injured. First responders rushed to the scene as gate guards halted traffic onto Fort Knox for up to 30 minutes.
Though the call was part of an emergency preparedness exercise that Fort Knox planners had been working on since January, they reacted to last week's scenario as if it had actually happened.
"Those are things that have to happen in a real situation," said Joel Tiotuico, plans and operations supervisor at Installation Protection Branch. "So we have to practice them."
Tiotuico said this year's required exercise was unlike past exercises in that it was the first time officials conducted it for such an extended period -- 3 1/2 days as opposed to the usual one or two -- involving 12 evaluators from all around the Army, including one from the Republic of Korea.
"In comparison to a lot of other installations, we are actually the first one to conduct an exercise like this that took three-and-a-half days of exercise that was evaluated," said Tiotuico. "Technically, our exercise started a month ago."
The official start date of the exercise was July 2, when planners began feeding scenarios notionally into the scene. The original intent of the exercise, according to Tiotuico, was for garrison organizations to test their responses.
However, Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, got involved and encouraged other agencies and units to participate. Tiotuico said the overall intent is to test how everyone on post would react in case of an emergency, not just some.
During last week's exercise, Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown and Baptist Health in Louisville also participated by taking in patients and diagnosing them. The FBI and local law enforcement agencies also participated.
Tiotuico said interest in the exercise had grown so much that even the Kentucky Public Health Department asked to play a role. Officials there are designing an app that synchronizes patient tracking across multiple agencies during emergencies. They saw the exercise as a prime opportunity to test the system.
"Patient tracking is a big deal," said Tiotuico. "It's still under development, and this was its actual first test -- and it worked."
Tiotuico said other areas of preparedness were also tested during the exercise, to include public works issues, public affairs responses and leadership preparedness.
"Overall, this was a good learning experience," said Tiotuico. "You would never want to be, 'We're good. We got this.' If you're at that stage, there's no improvement. … No matter how good the plans are, us as human beings always do something different. The plans will get you started, but once you get started, you'll have to flex up or down, left or right, to support your objectives of the incident."
He said now they will work on adjusting best practices in time to test them again in 2020. Between now and then, they will conduct functional exercises that will culminate in two years.
"We did a lot of stuff last week," he said. "We now have a lot of work to do to look at our techniques, and training, and procedures on how we operate to fix some things that need to be fixed."