By Ruth M. Quigley (SMDC/ARSTRAT)December 8, 2011
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - USAKA's emergency managers spent the past week in the classroom and at planned and unplanned events in an effort to prepare themselves and their departments for possible future crises.
Dennis Goudy, an incident command instructor representing U.S. Army Pacific Command, spent last week teaching people from USAKA Operations, KRS leadership, KRS Fire and EMS, Kwajalein Police Department, Kwajalein Atoll local government about the Incident Command System.
ICS was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina and is a nationwide framework for responding to disasters and other emergencies. Incorporating ICS into emergency plans can help if other federal agencies become involved in responding to an emergency.
"It gave us the knowledge we needed to incorporate the way we do things into the FEMA way of doing things," said Maj. Stephen Parrish, USAKA operations officer.
Over the course of a week, two classes were taught, ICS 300 and 400, and students who attended training all week will receive credit for both.
On the last day of classes some of the students were given a chance to put their new skills to work. A suspicious package was called into the explosive ordnance disposal team Dec. 2 and USAKA, KPD and KRS responded.
A box addressed to KRS with no return address was found on the side of the road and turned into KPD who then called EOD to evaluate the package. Students who were in class at the time were excused to respond after EOD determined that the package fit the suspicious qualifications.
The area around the Police Station was cleared and all traffic was routed around. The EOD robot then moved the package to an open field and managed to rip it open at a safe distance from observers.
Once the contents of the package were made obvious the entire team relaxed. It was just some books and papers bound for KRS in Huntsville, Ala. However, Scott Phillips from EOD cautioned that 999 times out of 1000, these packages and other suspicions are nothing.
"When we act like everything is the one in a thousand package, then we keep the community safe," Phillips said.
Parrish noticed some of the vocabulary and procedures from the classroom made their way into the way responders took control of the situation and developed a plan. Students in the emergency management classes also put their learning to a test during a planned tabletop exercise Wednesday.
The exercise simulated a category II typhoon sweeping over Kwajalein Atoll with sustained winds up more than 100 mph. Many of the people who attended the ICS classes were present for this exercise in addition to several other players.
The simulation tested Kwajalein's emergency managers' ability to respond to a potential weather event like a typhoon. While the responses were all hypothetical, the exercise gave the team a chance to test emergency plans against a potential disaster.
"This made us really look at the plan, validate areas that were strong and ID key weaknesses that we needed to improve upon," Parrish said. "This event showed that everyone works together well. They came up with solutions that were viable, well-thought out and smart."
An after action report meeting was planned for Saturday, but weaknesses and gaps in emergency plans were already being identified after the exercise on Wednesday. Doing an AAR allows those involved in an exercise to analyze their department's response in relation to other departments and figure out what worked and what didn't.
"We can have a plan, but the enemy, in this case the weather, has a say too. You have to adjust your plan according to what the enemy does. The more you think things through the better able you are to prepare, respond and recover," Parrish said.
Preparations are already under way for another search and rescue exercise and other events that will help emergency managers keep their skills and plans sharp.
"Each time I do one of these exercises, I am more and more impressed by the level of effort from players. They take it seriously and see it as an opportunity to learn," Parrish said.