By Sheryl Nix, Fort Wainwright Public AffairsMay 6, 2010
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Their mission, and they chose to accept it, was to respond to a wide variety of tests and challenges from a bomb scare to a hazardous-material spill and even a hostage situation at the Commissary.
It was "Mission Possible" for Fort Wainwright's garrison agencies and first responders who tackled these scenarios last week in conjunction with Arctic Edge, a large-scale, statewide exercise.
Although Arctic Edge incorporated federal, state and local agencies, evaluating emergency response capabilities throughout the state, Fort Wainwright garrison planners also took advantage of the exercise to test the abilities of the installation's anti-terrorism plan and interaction with local agencies through scenarios nested within the larger exercise.
"The purpose of this exercise was to validate our anti-terrorism plan that was just recently approved and facilitate training objectives for other directorates and agencies who were involved," said Maj. Robert Eriksen, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security planner. "In doing this, what we wanted to see was a team effort between Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright. We wanted to improve our ties with Fairbanks North Star Borough and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital so that we can exercise our mutual aid agreements."
Drawing on his experience at Fort Polk, La., during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Eriksen helped design the scenarios. "We had a good team effort across the board," he said. "We had a great planning team that helped us facilitate or mold this scenario to accomplish the training objectives that were set forth."
Real-world incidents inspired many of the training scenarios within the exercise plan and Eriksen was pleased with the results. "This is important," he said. "It demonstrates our ability to work with Fairbanks and improve the ties as well as exercise our response capability. I thought it was very effective."
Through a total of four vignettes or scenarios and a basic, overall threat woven throughout the week, planners stretched and challenged agencies and first responders with a variety of multi-faceted and complex crises that increased in intensity, intelligence clues and severity levels as the exercise progressed.
The following is an account of the day-by-day exercise scenarios garrison agencies tackled during Arctic Edge:
April 26 - Day 0
The news broke that a massive earthquake, 8.5 on the Richter scale, struck the Anchorage area causing destruction and significant disruptions to air and shipping traffic in and out of the city, possibly delaying the delivery of much-needed supplies. Anchorage-area residents depleted local stores of food and medicine in fear that more would not be coming. Panic set in. In response, the Fairbanks North Star Borough sent local law enforcement and emergency responders to Anchorage to help. The garrison simulated organizing relief efforts to the Anchorage area and anticipated the influx of displaced people moving to Fairbanks for food and supplies. With a decrease in law enforcement personnel in the community and an increase in anxious and desperate people arriving from the south, local police departments saw a noticeable spike in civil disobedience and criminal activity, including looting, breaking-and-entering and robberies, reaching an all-time high in the Fairbanks area. Leaders feared the situation could spread to Fort Wainwright, Eriksen said.
The garrison established the Crisis Action Cell and activated the Emergency Operations Center.
April 27 - Day 1
9:15 a.m. - Bomb threat
The first training event of the local portion of the exercise was the evacuation of the Child Development Center 2, based on a phoned-in bomb threat. A suspicious package was placed along the gate of the playground requiring the evacuation of approximately 36 children from CDC2 to CDC1 which also accomplished a training objective for Child, Youth and School Services.
"The reason that we've asked to participate in this exercise is that we have a requirement to actually participate in an evacuation at least once a year in line with our mobilization and contingency plan," said Heather Bauer, CYSS program operations specialist.
Although the explosive ordinance team determined the suspicious package was inert, this part of the exercise was intended to test military police response measures, CYSS evacuation policies and first responders' abilities to cordon off the area, identify the suspicious package and take necessary protocols with the EOD team on post, Eriksen said.
The garrison commander directed the force protection condition be raised to Bravo based on combined factors including the displaced people arriving in Fairbanks, the CDC incident and information gathered from the bomb threat phone call.
The suspicious package incident resulted in two walk-ins to the military police station with information. The package placement suggested that the criminal group involved in the incident had access to the installation and the contents contained documents indicating that the group might even have members who work on post.
April 28 - Day 2
Intelligence reports continued flowing in to the CAC indicating that a criminal team or group with anti-government or anti-military leanings was planning to breach the installation and loot or rob a facility.
Investigators discovered further information, including a specific group with intentions of capitalizing on the unrest in the community or breaching the installation to steal items. Another thread of the scenario was the perception in the Fairbanks community that Fort Wainwright was receiving food and medical supplies and not sharing them or offering assistance to the local community. Demonstrators protested at the front gate during the evening. With U.S. Army Alaska approval, the garrison commander implemented FPCON Charlie. "We reinforced the gates and called in the CAC; all the pertinent individuals," Eriksen said. "We set up a command-and-control post with representation from all the directorates to help facilitate providing relief efforts down in Anchorage and monitor the threat situation here locally."
April 29 - Day 3
9:21 a.m. - Hazardous-material spill
Commercial supplies began arriving in Fairbanks. A separate training incident involved an accident on the installation with a commercial resupply truck delivering an emergency resupply of high-concentration hydrogen peroxide that the Directorate of Public Works and Directorate of Logistics use on post. While driving on Montgomery Road the truck driver swerved to avoid an oncoming car and crashed near the Education Center, causing a hazardous-material spill and contaminating numerous people in the surrounding area, including instructors and students in the Education Center.
9:35 a.m. - Second vehicle accident
A second accident occurred as a driver observed the accident. The driver and infant passenger were also contaminated.
Fort Wainwright's Fire Station One responded to the incident and military police cordoned off the area. Approximately 42 people experienced injuries, including contamination. Half of the casualties were evacuated to Bassett Army Community Hospital and the other half were evacuated to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. To make things more challenging for first responders and emergency room personnel, this scenario included several people who had been contaminated going directly to BACH or the fire station to seek help, spreading the contamination to those areas.
Noon - All-clear sounded in the contamination area
"This exercise was important by providing the opportunity for multiple agencies to work together and see how well we work together to reach our response goal," said Assistant Chief Dennis Needham, Fort Wainwright Fire Department. "It provides the opportunity for us to see what worked well and what we might need to improve upon. It allows us to start thinking and preparing in the event a scenario of this magnitude happens for real. It also helps build confidence in our responders by allowing them to use their training in realistic simulated events."
At the same time this incident wrapped up, authorities received intelligence that a criminal element was in the final stages of breaking onto the installation to steal supplies or equipment.
1 p.m. - Criminal group breaches the installation
Unknown to the command and control element, 10 members of a fictitious criminal group breached the installation's perimeter and began operations on post to gain entry into a facility. Clues from previous days and incidents provided insight into the criminal group members' identities, intentions and abilities, Eriksen said.
Military police officers detained two individuals and discovered the plot, identified all the members on the installation and sent out a "Be on the Look Out" notice for the individuals.
5 p.m. - MPs set up sting operation
They also discovered a meeting location for the criminals and conducted a sting operation, resulting in the detention of three more group members.
9 p.m. - 911 call from the Commissary
They were unable to find the five remaining members until a Commissary employee called 911 and disclosed that armed men had taken hostages there. Military Police secured the area and the Directorate of Emergency Services Special Response Team established an incident command site at the Commissary parking lot. The SRT assaulted the building and removed the hostages and armed gunmen.
During the shootout, several gunmen were injured, but no SRT members received injuries.
"We preserve life and restore order," said Sgt. Ericka Devos, DES SRT officer in charge and tactical officer. Her goal for her team in the exercise was to ensure they can "alert and deploy and successfully run through a mission along with assisting the post and preserving life and restoring order."
Investigators interrogated the gunmen and determined that a civilian employee who worked in Bldg. 1555 was in charge of the criminal group. He was arrested.
With the criminal group threat contained and an increase of supplies in the Fairbanks area, the garrison commander decided to reduce the FPCON to Alpha.
April 30 - Day 4
10:30 p.m. - News conference
Eriksen briefed local news media representatives and role players on the exercise and outcomes.
Although the Fort Wainwright component of the exercise was most visible to Soldiers, family members and civilian employees, Eriksen said that garrison staff was constantly working behind the scenes to support the statewide exercise in addition to the local scenarios.
"We had multiple operations ongoing," Eriksen said. "So it really stretched our limits but it tested our ability to do multi-tasking; to be able to maintain basic security for the Soldiers, families and civilian employees on the installation and deal with multiple threats and incidents."
Trish Muntean and Brian Schlumbohm, FWA PAO, also contributed to this story.
Fort Wainwright planners, first responders prove mettle during Arctic Edge