By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 15, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Mar. 15, 2012) -- Fort Rucker was on alert as the sound of explosions rang out, smoke billowed from a helicopter and injured Soldiers cried for help behind the Fort Rucker Fitness Facility as the installation's emergency responders put their "boots on the ground" to take on a simulated terrorist attack during an all-hazards/protection exercise March 6.
"It's a three-day exercise," said Lt. Col. Dale Bedsole, operations officer in the force protection branch of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "[The exercise] began with us receiving intelligence from various U.S. government agencies that led us to believe that there may be an attack on the installation."
The installation holds about three exercises a year to test Fort Rucker's emergency response, but the all-hazards exercise is the biggest exercise of the year, according to the operations officer.
"These exercises keep our Army Family aware of the threats that are out there," said Justin Mitchell, Fort Rucker deputy garrison commander. "[The exercises] also assure them that we have effective plans to protect them from threats ranging from terrorist attacks, to accidents and weather hazards."
The day before the all-hazards exercise, the installation's crisis management team evaluated the intelligence that was gathered and put together the necessary force-protection measures in case of an attack, according to Bedsole.
The scenario for the attack involved a helicopter that was stolen by terrorists in order to fly over the installation and spray an unknown chemical on Soldiers and civilians, according to the operations officer. While making a second pass, the terrorists flying the helicopter hit the power lines behind the fitness facility and crashed onto the track.
"From there, it turned into a response for our fire department and police to respond to a terrorist attack [involving] chemicals," he said.
"It's important that we keep our emergency responders sharp," said Mitchell, "and practicing through the year goes a long way in keeping the edge we need to perform effectively in case a crisis situation happens.
"We take the safety and security of our people very seriously," he said. "It is truly a no-fail mission. Conducting these exercises regularly helps us validate our plans, and also points out potential shortfalls or areas we need to make adjustments on to keep our Soldiers, civilians and Family members safe."
As the exercise got further under way, smoke simulated a burning helicopter and Soldiers lay injured on the ground crying for the responders to come help. Two of the injured Soldiers ran into the fitness facility to seek shelter, but unknowingly contaminated the building and it's occupants with the unknown chemical substance, which now became another issue for the first responders, according to Bedsole.
The emergency responders had to determine what course of action was to be taken given the circumstances, he said. They determined that they needed to respond to calls coming from inside the fitness facility and immediately evacuate the facility and get the people inside to the decontamination station that was set up in the parking lot.
The Fort Rucker fire department simulated dousing the flames that were coming from the helicopter using a high-powered water cannon before the hazardous material team was sent onto the track to retrieve the injured Soldiers.
Emergency responders from local communities are also invited to participate when the installation conducts an exercise such as the all-hazards/protection exercise, according to Mitchell.
"This partnership [with local communities] helps all parties know what to expect from each other," he said, "what kinds of support to expect from each other and tests the plans that are in place to respond to an emergency on post."
The installation works with various agencies in the surrounding communities as well as federal agencies when responding to different crises, according to Bedsole.
"We have memorandums of agreement and understanding with local emergency management agencies and state EMAs," he said. "We even deal with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Fort Rucker also has agreements with local hospitals so that they can provide the installation with ambulances and medical personnel in case of an emergency like the simulated attack.
"We don't have an actual hospital on Fort Rucker," said the operations officers. "All of our casualties would go to local hospitals in the event of a real attack or emergency."
Fort Rucker also has agreements with the Red Cross in the event that there is a natural disaster or anything that requires their aid, according to Bedsole.
"[These exercises] give us a chance to practice our procedures," he said. "We can write all the plans in the world, but it's for nothing if we don't actually test them."