By Lt. Col. Richard Goldenberg, 42nd Infantry DivisionSeptember 2, 2010
TROY, NY-- As Hurricane Earl pounded up along the East Coast this week, leaders and staff of the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters trained with state and local public safety and emergency management officials to iron out procedures for deploying National Guard forces in natural disasters.
Emergency responders from the greater Albany, NY--area trained with the National Guard Soldiers in a tabletop exercise format on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at the New York State Armory here.
Brigadier General Steven Wickstrom, the commander of the 42nd Infantry Division led the effort to generate dialogue and discussion between military planners and civilian authorities to improve the coordination and response of National Guard members following a disaster.
"You're only good at what you practice," Wickstrom told the attendees, including approximately 16 members of the 42nd Infantry Division senior staff, and participants or observers from the Emergency Operations or Public Safety offices from Colonie, Albany County, Schenectady County, Rensselaer County, Essex County, Hamilton County, Warren County, Scoharie County, the NYS Department of Homeland Security and State Emergency Management Office.
"I'm happy for this opportunity to work with the Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, New York Naval Militia, New York Guard and everybody else here," Wickstrom said. "We take the mission to support our civil authorities seriously here in the division. I am sure we will all learn a lot."
The scenario included significant flooding in the upper Hudson Valley from an unusual winter thaw of heavy snowpack.
The flooding scenario was surprisingly similar, however, to the effects that might result from a large-scale hurricane such as Hurricane Earl coming inland in the northeast.
"It is very likely that the events that we discuss today will occur somewhere in New York State by Saturday," said New York State Emergency Management Office Chief of Response Rick French as the group delved into the procedures to identify needed National Guard capabilities and ensure that need is identified at the state Emergency Management Office.
The New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division, the famous "Rainbow Division" leads the National Guard's local response forces in times of crisis as a Joint Task Force Headquarters. It is capable of commanding Army National Guard, Air National Guard, New York Guard and New York Naval Militia forces in support of local civil authorities.
Emergency responders frequently proclaim that the time to first meet face-to-face is prior to a disaster, explained Maj. Wing Yu, the 42nd Division deputy planning officer.
"Most importantly, we've had a very warm welcome from our civilian counterparts in training together for disaster response," said Maj. Sean Garry, an Air National Guard planner from New York's Joint Force Headquarters. "This is the really important part where we interact together and learn together."
The Soldiers and Airmen will review staff battle drills and planning to identify key areas of discussion for their employment alongside emergency responders from across the region.
The Tabletop exercise focused on four major themes of discussion: the command and control of response forces, managing their flow to an incident site, establishing communications plans and integrating federal assistance.
The dialogue and discussion generated at the training exercise provides for a common understanding of when, how and with what forces the National Guard is employed by the governor in response to local authorities need for support.
Bringing the training to a close was Brig. Gen. Renwick Payne, the Director of the Joint Staff for the New York National Guard, responsible for the training and preparedness of Guard forces to support local authorities in time of crisis.
"It is important to get a clear understanding of operational plans at all the counties," Payne told the group. "We must attempt not to duplicate at the macro level all these missions and capabilities, it's simply way too expensive to do that."
"Our business is to corral all these military capabilities in New York State as a clearinghouse for the State Emergency Management Office," he said.