By Reginald Rogers/ParaglideJuly 30, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - At about 10:21 a.m. July 21, a radiological weapon was "detonated" near Fort Bragg, injuring the almost 400 employees who worked at a nearby maintenance facility.
The explosion and the ensuing radioactive cloud that hovered in the area above Bragg Boulevard and Knox Street, prompted Fort Bragg and Fayetteville authorities to combine efforts to minimize damage and casualties.
Although the scenario was hypothetical, the resulting ideas and coordination that came from the exercise were very real. Officials from both communities worked together to ensure all citizens and concerns were taken care of during the exercise, called Orbit Comet.
If a terrorist attack occurred on Fort Bragg, both communities would be affected and according to officials, it's important to ensure that agencies from both communities work together to respond to any such emergency situation.
"We work with Fort Bragg on a daily basis and we have mutual agreements that we work with them, whether it's any type of exercise or any event that happens on Fort Bragg, especially with our fire and EMS (emergency medical service) units" explained Tim Mitchell, deputy director of Cumberland County's Emergency Services. "Today, with our exercises going on, this is a large-scale event for Cumberland County and the City of Fayetteville, so our agencies wanted to really be involved with this so that we would have a better working relationship."
Mitchell said it's very important for Cumberland County to be involved in Orbit Comet even though the event did not originate on Fort Bragg.
"Even though the event didn't start on Fort Bragg, it could begin in the county and move onto Fort Bragg. We have to work together as a unified team in order to be able to mitigate the situation as soon as we can."
The event was designed to ensure that agencies from both communities are able to properly coordinate necessary assistance in case of local emergencies, including possible terrorist attacks and natural disasters, such as devastating hurricanes or tornadoes.
"It works for us very well," Mitchell said. "I've always said you're only as good as you're trained. So the more we train together, the better prepared both agencies would be in case of a real emergency."
The exercise included military police, fire and EMS elements for Fort Bragg and emergency management officials from Cumberland County.
Mitchell said the training has helped his agency because it is an opportunity to become familiarize with the way the military does things.
"I think we've learned together as far as how we can get resources a whole lot easier with Fort Bragg. The civilian world also does things differently," he said. George Olavarria, Fort Bragg's acting Emergency Services director, agreed that the joint effort was beneficial for both communities.
"We're exercising our all-hazards plan and Cumberland County and all surrounding communities are vital to the plan," Olavarria explained. "What happens here on Fort Bragg would also affect those off the installation. So it's very important that we partner up and exercise the plan."
Olavarria said it's important to be prepared for all contingencies.
"It's very important that we have a plan and we exercise the plan and we involve as many of our partners, whether they're civilian or Soldiers, into the plan so that we essentially, know how to get from point A to point B."
Olavarria said in implementing a plan of action, the agencies have to consider different scenarios or possibilities and how they may affect Fort Bragg and surrounding areas.
"Here in North Carolina, we have tornadoes, hurricanes, you name it, so we have to be prepared for natural disasters or man-made disasters and we plan for each of those," he said.
He acknowledged that the two communities have always forged a partnership and he added that it is important to strengthen the relationship by working together on exercises, such as Orbit Comet.
Olavarria added that it also ensures that they're able to deal directly with state and federal agencies.