By Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus (AMC)September 27, 2012
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Though the calendar read Sept. 20, Anniston Army Depot's Emergency Operations Center was caught in a time warp, propelled forward two weeks to the installation's upcoming Community Appreciation Day.
Employees monitored radios and weather conditions, ensuring the safety of the depot workforce and their family members who were participating in the games and festivities about a mile away.
As news of a simulated explosion reached the group, they reacted -- each using their training to respond to the crisis -- answering phone calls from concerned citizens, arranging for assistance from outside sources, communicating with those who needed to evacuate the area and helping those injured in the blast or by the ensuing chemical cloud.
Thankfully, the explosion was part of an exercise aimed at testing the depot's emergency services, fire and law enforcement, safety, antiterrorism and emergency management procedures.
The Army has tasked the depot to annually exercise its all-hazard response capabilities, according to Thyris Banks, chief of the depot operations office. This enables depot emergency responders to see how they would react to anything from a tornado to an active shooter or, in the case of the Sept. 20 exercise, an explosion involving a large container of chlorine.
This year's exercise was a functional exercise, meaning no actors were used to portray the events and no assets were actually deployed to the accident site. The events simply unfolded within the EOC.
Every three years, the installation must hold a full scale exercise, but other exercises held during that time may be functional or tabletop.
"We can still exercise the key components of our first responder and emergency management procedures with a tabletop exercise," said Banks, adding that he would like to see the exercise evolve from an annual event to a quarterly event, as the Chemical Accident or Incident Response and Assistance exercises were while chemical weapons were stored on the installation.
"That was just one hazard we exercised quarterly with CAIRA, but we have to be prepared for all hazards that may occur," said Banks.
Scenarios for the all-hazards exercises are based upon events most likely to impact the installation and a planning committee, made up of depot employees with knowledge of the emergency procedures that will be affected by the exercise meet to plot ways to test target capability.
"Target capabilities are a list of tasks that would always have to be performed, regardless of the emergency," said Kent Latimer, emergency manager for the Depot Operations Office.
For this reason, each exercise is based on capabilities, rather than a scenario.
During the all-hazard exercises, responders from throughout the installation practice their roles and responsibilities, honing skills in preparation for whatever may occur.
"When all is said and done, we want this installation to protect the life, safety and health of all employees. That is why we exercise and that is why we train," said Banks.
Throughout the day, observers from the Center for Domestic Preparedness on McClellan noted improvements to be made and best practices by the EOC staff. The assessment is still forthcoming, but Latimer was pleased with the attitude and participation of those in the EOC.
"The important thing is that we learn something from what we did and we use that to improve," said Latimer. "We discovered we have a capable EOC staff that just needs training and resources."