By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig, Joint Force Headquarters, Pennsylvania National GuardJune 7, 2019
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Approximately thirty Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees with the Pennsylvania National Guard's Joint Operations Center (JOC) conducted a Continuity of Operations (COOP) exercise June 3-5 here and at the 193rd Special Operations Wing facility in State College, Pa.
A COOP exercise involves moving to an alternate location while continuing to perform a unit's mission-essential tasks.
"The reason we practice COOP is so the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Task Force (JTFPA) is able to exercise command and control over Pennsylvania National Guard units if our Joint Operations Center is compromised," said Maj. Paolo Sica, future operations planner with the Joint Operations Center, Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Force Headquarters.
The ways the JOC facility could be compromised can include both natural and manmade events including fire, severe weather, or a terrorist attack.
"For us, COOP is especially important because we have a responsibility to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with our domestic operations capabilities to be able to provide those capabilities to citizens in our commonwealth in any situation," said Sgt. Maj. Scott Ahner, JOC Sgt. Maj.
This exercise was the culmination of years of preparation and practice, including COOPs to alternate locations closer to Fort Indiantown Gap.
"It's a good thing in this exercise to take our Soldiers and Airmen out of their regular offices and desks where they're comfortable and put them somewhere else where they're sleeping on a cot, their connectivity isn't as good, and make sure they still know how to react to these situations and accomplish the mission," said Col. Frank Montgomery, JOC director.
Montgomery added that the JOC's mission is incredibly important to the commonwealth and needs to be able to maintain continuous operations every hour of every day of the year to be able to execute a mission in the event of a snowstorm, or the heavy rain and flooding of the upcoming hurricane season, as well as to be able to report any incidents involving Pennsylvania National Guard service members.
While conducting the COOP, JOC staff are also playing a small role in exercise Ardent Sentry, which simulates the response to an earthquake in the New Madrid fault zone in Missouri, so the exercise is more complex than moving to an alternate location. The level of stress and details are increasing the difficulty in order to test, validate and support the standard operating procedures while continuing to track real-world events.
"It's going great, everybody's here, we have all of our equipment, they're continuing to learn and adjust as new situations present themselves, they're coming up with ways to improve things, and after this, we'll be able to take all these improvements and implement them in our standard operating procedures," said Ahner.
Among the equipment is the First Response Support Trailer (FRST), which supports the JOC with a commercial wireless access point at their desks. The trailer uses the 4G LTE first responder network and is supported by a backup satellite.
The JOC staff is always working to provide the highest level of support to law enforcement and other states, local and federal agencies to ensure the safety of Pennsylvanians.