TOPEKA, Kan. - Defense Coordinating Element VII, U.S. Army North, made the most of a disaster response exercise by inviting a host of state and federal counterparts to train with them Oct. 16-18 in Topeka, Kan.

Responding to the notional devastation of three massive tornadoes, the Kansas City, Mo.-based element trained with teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, two area military bases and the National Guard of four states.

"Although this scenario was intended to train my unit as a team, we invited our partners because these are the people we would be working with in a real event," said Col. Ed Manning, defense coordinating officer, Region VII. "This integrated training helps ensure a well-coordinated response during an actual disaster."

The training event kicked off when the team received word that three notional tornados had skipped across Kansas. The defense coordinating element moved out to Topeka, set up its command post, and got to work with its partners to help the thousands of simulated injured and displaced people.

The exercise mirrored what might occur in a real-world disaster response. Role players portraying state officials requested federal assistance through FEMA. Mike Parker, one of FEMA's federal coordinating officers, reached out to Manning and his team to coordinate the federal military assets needed to augment the state-led response.

Operations officers from the Kansas bases of Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth simulated their part in the effort, and National Guard members from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska provided their expertise.

FEMA's regionally based Incident Management Assistance Team joined in the exercise to gain a better understanding of federal military capabilities available during disasters and the processes used to bring in those resources, Parker said.

He added that an exercise environment is an excellent place to build critical relationships that can make working together in a real disaster more efficient and effective.

"You have to get to know and understand the people you are working with," he said.
In the end, Parker said the exercise confirmed for him that Army North's defense coordinating elements will be ready to assist when needed.

"I got a sense of satisfaction that all 10 of the defense coordinating elements are trained to a common standard," he said. "I am more confident today than ever that they will have the same processes and procedures in place to very easily synch with the staff processes we have in place with FEMA and other federal partners."

Army North, based in San Antonio, Texas, coordinates federal military support to civil authorities as the Army component command of U.S. Northern Command, the Colorado-based unified command responsible for homeland defense and civil support.

The defense coordinating element will returned to Kansas City on Oct. 19.