Severe weather tabletop exercise raises awareness
Chris Hallenbeck, emergency management coordinator, Direcotorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, answers a question during the severe weather tabletop exercise March 21 at Riley's Conference Center. The tabletop exercise brought togeth... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort Riley representatives and partners from the Flint Hills region gathered inside Riley's Conference Center March 21 for the annual severe weather tabletop exercise.

"We've got all the right people in the room and we can work our way through this," said Steve Crusinberry director of Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "We've got folks from all over the place, folks from the state are here, county emergency managers, (American) Red Cross, Westar energy ... all the key directorates, 1st Infantry Division is here. All the key directors on Fort Riley ... So we got all the key players right here. This will be a great event."

Kansas ranks second in the nation annually for tornadoes with an average of 98 per year, said Tom Pendleton, plans and protection chief, DPTMS and emcee for the event.

"However, 2018 was relatively benign here with just 45 tornadoes, 48 under of the 10-year average," he said. "Fortunately there were no violent EF4 or EF5 tornadoes in Kansas last year and there were no fatalities and only eight injuries."

Pendleton referred to the Enhanced Fujita scale which is used to assign a tornado a 'rating' based on estimated wind speeds and related damage, according to

"Severe weather comes in multiple forms such as tornadoes, hail, microbursts and flooding," Pendleton said. "Soldiers and families that are new to the area and do not understand the destructive forces of severe weather are at greatest risk. The greatest limitation is the speed at which tornadoes can form, often in less than 10 minutes with little time to warn the population."

This is particularly important because several thousand Soldiers, civilians and their families live off post and commute to Fort Riley on a daily basis, Pendleton said.

"The majority of the population lives between Manhattan, Junction City and Abilene," he said. "However, some personnel do live as far away as 70 miles from the installation. So any weather we have in northeast Kansas generally impacts the Fort Riley community."

Pendleton explained how Fort Riley would respond to weather incidents, should they occur with different command nodes taking charge of aspects of the recovery.

The tabletop exercise was set up to "review procedures, synchronize actions to prepare for tornado season to minimize impact to Fort Riley operations and return us to normal operations," Pendleton said.

"What I would ask everybody to do is just kind of immerse yourself in the scenario," Crusinberry said. "Speak up. There's no wrong answers here. What we want to do is just identify any gaps or seams that we have. And if we walk out of here and Tom Pendleton has a list this long that he's got to get done by next week I'm okay with that."

After the 30-minute introduction to Fort Riley, the parties involved learned their first scenario and talked through the steps they would take.

In his introduction, Pendleton displayed the 27 protection capabilities developed by the Department of Homeland Security and modified to meet the Army mission, in order to achieve the National Preparedness Goal through prevent, protect, mitigate, response and recover.

"Our six Mission Command Nodes with the three capabilities that are common to all and the remaining 24 capabilities associated with each command node," Pendleton said displaying while displaying the next slide.

The exercise moved the players from pre-storm, to immediate impact on Fort Riley then through recovery efforts.

Senior Master Sgt. Micaela Blain, detachment chief, Detachment 2, 3rd Weather Squadron, 3rd Air Support Operations Group, was at the tabletop exercise. Her group is in charge of forecasting the weather for Fort Riley and with the Fort Riley Operations Center issuing any weather watches or warnings.

"I think it's awesome," she said of the partners coming together. "I really do appreciate how much Fort Riley -- garrison and division -- value the tabletop and how much effort they put in to getting all those agencies together."