News: Disaster support exercise builds strategies for response
Story by Lalita Laksbergs
Lessons learned at Defense Logistics Agency Headquarters’ first disaster support table-top exercise will help the agency and its federal partners be better prepared the next time support is needed after a natural disaster.
The March 21 exercise was developed after Hurricane Sandy, DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek said in opening remarks. “Sandy was a great example of the government’s response to support state and local folks to be there to minimize their loss of life, human suffering and damage to property,” he told participants.
After reviewing items from DLA’s support to Hurricane Sandy, Harnitchek directed the agency to revisit a disaster and develop a table-top exercise, said Steve Shea, chief of the Joint Exercises and Readiness Team in the DLA Joint Logistics Operations Center.
Participants in this exercise included senior representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Northern Command, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, American Red Cross, National Guard Bureau, General Services Administration, and U.S. Coast Guard.
“This is when leadership really matters,” Harnitchek said. “We have tremendous logistics power in this nation’s economy, but you can’t bring it to bear unless someone is out there leading the way.”
By integrating DLA Headquarters staff and field activity commanders and directors in this strategic exercise, DLA’s training objective is to understand better how to handle a major event that requires defense support of civil authorities, DLA officials said.
“This exercise allows us to synchronize within a teaching environment,” Army Brig. Gen. Timothy McKeithen, USNORTHCOM director of logistics and engineering said. “This type of potential disaster has so many key players, and … having those players participate in the exercise allows us to look at the [rules for defense support to civil authorities] along with all the other agencies, understanding that the Department of Defense portion of the response is huge.”
The earthquake scenario is set in the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the central U.S. The NMSZ is the most active seismic area in the U.S. east of the Rockies and is located in southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois, according to Department of Natural Resources information.
The zone was selected as the exercise location because the region is an industrial, transportation and economic hub for the central U.S. Economic impacts from a catastrophe in the NMSZ would severely disrupt the nation’s economy because the region contains several major supply and transportation centers, to include the Mississippi River.
The overall scenario included FEMA requesting extensive Defense Department support with personnel, equipment and supplies. This was initiated due to four earthquakes occurring within the NMSZ that affected eight states, 86,000 injuries and/or fatalities, 7.2 million displaced persons, two million people requiring shelter, and 3,500 damaged bridges impacting 140 counties. The exercise also addressed concerns specific to hazardous material contamination, debris, flooding, structural damage and loss of public services.
“This scenario is intended to dwarf the catastrophic results of Katrina, let alone Sandy, and could be expected to be 10 times worse than Katrina,” Shea said.
The intent of this exercise is to help DLA understand the unique processes in supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Northern Command.
“As a result of Hurricane Sandy, OSD is developing a new policy for complex catastrophes,” said Mike Hilert, a joint training system specialist assigned to DLA. “OSD is using the same scenario in developing a strategy for DoD support to complex catastrophes and plan on using this as one of the scenarios in the next quadrennial review which is the basis for the program objective memorandum and the budget.”
Officials are using the exercise results and multiple scenarios to develop strategies to handle catastrophic situations dealing with medical services, fire and emergency services, transportation and infrastructure, Shea said.
“This scenario gives us the opportunity to focus on how we support a disaster on this scale,” he said. “How do you provide fuel to first responders and all those in need when the Mississippi River has now separated the region into two parts?”
A specific segment of the exercise focused on active and effective communications within DLA and among the various Defense Department organizations.
Officials brought in the DLA Mobile Command Trailer from Richmond, Va., to demonstrate its capability as an emergency communications center. DLA leaders are working to determine whether the command trailer can be used as a communications resource during an emergency contingency, Shea said.
“One of the lessons learned from Sandy was the need for a command and control vehicle,” he said. “We needed something we could operate out of to help integrate with our joint logistics partners and to provide access to resources during the emergency,”
DLA’s next disaster support exercise is Ardent Sentry, tentatively scheduled May 15-23 and coordinated by the Defense Department.