Looking back on 2011, it was a year of many Army medical advancements in areas such as vaccine trials, prosthetics/robotics, and information technology, just to name a few, but continued improvement in Army readiness has been realized as well.
In August 2011, the U.S. Army North Vibrant Response 12 Developmental Assignment, a U.S. Northern Command field training assignment, rehearsed the nation's tiered response capabilities for any chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident. The event took place in Edinburgh, Ind. at the Atterbury-Muscatatuck Complex Aug. 13-30. During this particular exercise, local, state and federal disaster responders rehearsed response procedures to an escalating disaster after a simulated 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in downtown Cincinnati.
The intended focus of Vibrant Response 12 is to train and confirm readiness of CBRN Enterprise Forces on domestic CBRN Consequence Management tasks through simulated theater opening and sustainment operations in a constructive and realistic live field environment. These bi-annual exercises, from start to finish, are incredibly challenging, involving exceptionally realistic training in an effort to increase our overall preparedness for the unknown.
Over 75 safety professionals have applied to participate in the past four VR exercises , with only a total of 12 applicants, four per exercise, being selected. This year, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick Safety and Occupational Health specialist Mary Proffitt was selected. Proffitt came to USAMRMC three years ago as a safety intern, and in the span of three short years she has come to be an integral member of the MRMC Surety, Safety, and Environment Staff.
What does it take to be selected for such an exercise?
"The Safety Director, USANORTH, selects four participants from across the Army Career Program 12, which includes Health Physicists, Industrial Hygienists, Safety and Occupational Health Specialists and Technicians, etc.," explained Proffitt. "ARNORTH tries to form a team of CP-12 professionals from a variety of backgrounds, career levels, and specialties, so that we can benefit from cross-training opportunities and the exercise can benefit from a broad range of subject matter expertise."
"As a Safety and Occupational Health Specialist with a strong scholastic background in the sciences, I was a unique addition to the selectees," said Proffitt.
Her background in Radiation Safety and her love of field work made her a prime candidate for the assignment.
Proffitt's supervisor Clifford Wendel, director of the Surety, Safety and Environmental Office, described her as "an excellent example of the quality of our civilian workforce we have within the Command."
In fact, Wendel was the one who suggested the ARNORTH exercise to Proffitt, feeling she would be perfect for the assignment.
"Ms. Proffitt was chosen because she is one of the small, but growing number, of Army Safety Professionals within Career Program 12 that have completed the requirements and been awarded the Army Safety Certification. Mary has a strong commitment to providing the units within MRMC the best safety assistance possible and is extremely dedicated to both MRMC and the Army."
Once the final four selections were made, participants began their online training, completing both DSCA and FEMA courses in an effort to familiarize themselves with the National Response Framework called the National Incident Management System and Disaster Response. Participants then headed to Indiana to begin individual preparation before reaching their final destination of Camp Atterbury, Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, where each was assigned a wide-range of safety and occupational health management responsibilities.
"My involvement was two-fold in regard to safety," said Proffitt. "First, I was there to ensure the exercise was conducted in a manner that would not create unnecessary risk to exercise participants and observers, as well as the hundreds of locals hired to play the role of displaced civilians," Proffitt continued, "and we had to ensure their safety."
Safety of the participants involved in Vibrant Response 12 was crucial. The Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex was transformed into a mock disaster set, packed with over 7,000 individuals, and included all the "bells and whistles" you could imagine. The set simulated smoke billowing from burning rubble, cars and partially collapsed buildings, as well as strategically placed mannequins simulating casualties and role-actors to play the part of the displaced, injured and confused citizenry. With such a complex set and realistic dangers being simulated, safety personnel were imperative to keeping the exercise moving smoothly without injury.
"My secondary role was to observe and provide comments on the safety considerations of the planned response itself," said Proffitt. "For instance, if radiation contamination is present, what control measures do we take to protect the responders? Will we actively monitor environmental radiation levels and responder doses? What Personal Protective Equipment is most appropriate?"
The VR exercise encompassed a myriad of tasks, to include medical care and evacuation, communications set-up, route clearing, mortuary affairs, aerial imagery, testing for CBRN elements, decontamination, shelter for displaced civilians, food, water and medical supplies for displaced civilians, evidence collection, law enforcement assistance, and so much more.
You may be asking yourself, "Is such an elaborate exercise even worth the time and effort?" Short answer, yes, it is.
"This exercise is extremely important because it trains the designated responders to work together toward a common goal and speak a universal language. This is an extremely difficult task considering the scale (7,000+ responders) of the operation and the variety of agencies and state/federal government coordination necessary to complete the mission," said Proffitt. "It is imperative that bureaucratic processes, common to government operations, do not impede the ability to respond to emergency events, in an way that will save the most human lives and provide support for affected towns, cities, states to recuperate losses and get back to business as usual."
Proffitt continued, "I was both amazed and horrified by our ability to respond to such an event. I am happy to see a proactive approach to emergency preparedness and I am glad the Army has decided to invest in much needed exercises such as this one."
In regards to her own professional development resulting from this exercise, Proffitt could not be more satisfied.
"I have a much greater understanding of the application of safety principals and standards and I finally had a chance to get my hands dirty. Now, while conducting safety training, I can refer to my own experience rather than a regulation or manual," Proffitt said.