Wednesday, April 17, 2013
By Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs
BRAGGS, Okla. – More than 900 uniformed service members and emergency personnel from six different states converged on the Camp Gruber Military Training Site April 15-19 to participate in an exercise called Vigilant Guard. The training is based on a hypothetical catastrophic earthquake scenario along the New Madrid fault line.
The exercise, an effort to practice support to civil authorities in a crisis situation, was hosted by the Arkansas National Guard and included participants from five other states including Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas and Oklahoma, as well as observers from Guatemala and Chile.
“Vigilant Guard is a National Guard exercise that allows states to train for the event of a natural or manmade disaster,” said Brig. Gen. Patricia Anslow, commander of the Arkansas Joint Forces Headquarters and Joint Task Force commander in the scenario.
Camp Gruber served as one of three primary locations for the exercise, with Camp Robinson located just outside of Little Rock and Fort Chaffee in northwest Arkansas serving as the other two primary locations.
“Camp Gruber is an extraordinary training site,” Anslow said. “There is rubble and an entire village to aid in the simulation. We were able to go through all the search and extraction, which is difficult to simulate without this type of environment. This is an incredible facility for this type of training.”
Maj. Gen. James Joseph, National Guard advisor to the commander of North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command and United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM), served as a mentor to Anslow during the exercise and echoed her thoughts on Camp Gruber adding realism to the scenario.
“You have confined spaces and rubble piles and it is central to the six states participating in the exercise,” Joseph said. “I applaud the Adjutant General of Arkansas for his vision, bringing an exercise like this to the state of Oklahoma and working a potential real-life mission that affects Arkansas and five other states.”
In the scenario, the New Madrid earthquake occurred at 11:09 a.m. on April 13, with the epicenter being located in northeast Arkansas near Marked Tree.
The New Madrid fault line runs along the eastern border of Arkansas, from Louisiana north through Arkansas and Missouri and as far north as Illinois. The zone experienced a major earthquake in the late 1800s, resulting in significant widespread damage.
For exercise purposes, the primary affected area was replicated at Camp Gruber, with the majority of exercise participants conducting training here. The remainder of participants conducted training at Camp Robinson, Fort Chaffee and various other locations around Arkansas.
As part of the Vigilant Guard scenario, the earthquake resulted in possible levee failures and consequential flooding along with widespread fires, overwhelming and degrading local firefighting capabilities.
The earthquake scenario also resulted in damage to transportation and energy infrastructure and a large number of casualties, stressing local medical service providers. There were also a number of hazardous materials spills and significant damage to structures throughout Arkansas as part of the exercise.
Col. Lee Schnell, commander of Joint Task Force 71 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) and custodian of the Texas Homeland Response Force, said the exercise provided participants a great opportunity to work together in a disaster-type scenario.
And while Vigilant Guard focused on exercising the participant’s response to a catastrophic earthquake, Schnell said the experience gained from working together with all the various agencies could very well be applied to any type of disaster.
“The scenario we’ve been training for could literally be anything,” Schnell said. “It could be anything from an explosion at the Port of Houston, where you have lots of chemicals and things, to a hurricane in Louisiana, literally all sorts of things.”
Schnell, whose Homeland Response Force has the responsibility for providing assistance to all of FEMA’s Region 6, said training at Camp Gruber really gives his organization an opportunity to “stretch our legs.”
“We have a mission to be able to alert, assemble and deploy anywhere within our region,” he said. “But, we haven’t gone this far north before. As a matter of fact, we haven’t taken the Homeland Response Force outside the state of Texas before now.”
Schnell said Camp Gruber offers some great venues, especially for his Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFPs).
“It offers some collapsed structures and it offers participants the ability to spread out a little bit and presents them with some different challenges,” Schnell said.
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