By Mr. Michael Abrams (AMC)February 18, 2011
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. - Years and years of chemical munitions disaster response exercises may be within months - if not weeks - of coming to an end.
Redleg exercises, now known as CAIRA exercises, have been conducted on Anniston Army Depot four times a year, every year, for more than 40 years. With the Anniston Chemical Activity managed munitions stockpile almost completely demilitarized, the need for additional exercises, and the training required to support them, is coming to an end.
CAIRA, an acronym many know is short hand for the depot's Chemical Accident/Incident Response and Assistance, involves hundreds of ANCA and depot employees. On a quarterly basis, CAIRA teams would be summoned to the Emergency Operations Center in Bldg. 363 or other locations to help commanders and leaders mitigate well-thought-out training exercises specifically designed to test standing plans and the people tasked with implementing them.
Simulated exercises have centered around mock aircraft crashes, employees acting the part of disgruntled co-workers, natural disasters and even mock terrorists. Old aircraft frames, artificial but real-looking injuries, and employees with a flair for the dramatic helped make the exercises seem very real.
Every quarterly CAIRA exercise was always a learning experience for the participating commanders, leaders and employees. Each exercise was also a rehearsal - not only for a possible accident or incident - but for an annual exercise that involved Emergency Management Agency officials at the county, state and national levels, local and area first responders, and Department of the Army and U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency officials who evaluated the combined efforts of all.
The next - and expected to be the last - annual exercise, one element of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, or CSEPP, is scheduled to take place on March 2. Officials say additional, large-scale exercises will not be necessary since the stockpile should be completely demilitarized this summer. Locally, CSEPP will be discontinued six months after the stockpile has been demilitarized.
The last quarterly exercise leading up to next month's mock disaster drill was conducted in the depot's Chemical Limited Area on Feb. 3. The combined depot and ANCA CAIRA team responded to a real-looking vehicle accident involving three ANCA employees, a truck and trailer, a forklift and two empty ton containers.
Ton containers are steel barrels that are almost seven feet long and are used to hold as much as 170 gallons of mustard agent. The steel containers are routinely used to move chlorine and other commercial chemicals for industrial purposes.
The exercise tested everyone's efforts to protect the depot work force, the community, the environment, care for those with simulated injuries, and address all of the other issues an accident involving mustard agent would require.
"I believe the exercise earlier this month provided the depot and ANCA team with an excellent opportunity to prepare to successfully respond to the March exercise scenario as well as to an unlikely real accident," said Lt. Col. Willie J. Flucker, ANCA commander.
ANCA Risk Management Division Chief Genell Young said, "Excellent training and highly motivated, professional employees have been the hallmark of our Anniston CAIRA team. I have every reason to believe we will do well during next month's exercise because people have been dedicated to being ready to respond if there was an actual incident in the Chemical Limited Area."
On behalf of ANCA's current and past commanders, Young also said, "We appreciate the depot supervisors and employees who have supported the CAIRA plan and team over the years. Working as a unified team with a common objective, we routinely demonstrate our skill and preparedness to respond to any and all incidents.