News: Civil Affairs goes Hollywood
Story by Capt. Saska Ball
UPLAND, Calif. — On July 13, 2013, at 2:46 p.m., a magnitude 9.9 earthquake hits 231 miles northeast of Tokyo, Japan, at a depth of 35.2 miles. The earth quake is the largest ever recorded in history. Pacific Warning Center issues a Tsunami Warning for the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the U.S. West Coast. Tsunami alerts sound in more than 50 countries and territories. Within an hour after the quake, a wall of water up to 200 feet high washes over Japan.
At 3:05 a.m., the following day, the President of the United States addresses the nation. He confirms the approaching tsunami is set to hit the West Coast. Mass panic and rioting begin in numerous West Coast cities.
Alpha Company, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion based in Encino, Calif., is mobilized to support an infantry brigade in the location known as Area of Operation Upland to assist with the natural disaster recovery efforts.
Sounds a bit like a far-fetched Hollywood script, right? Well, that’s because it is.
“Our annual training is a scenario-based event,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Vidmar, a civil affairs team sergeant. “Our company commander came up with the concept of having a notional training in which a large scale disaster hits Southern California. What it does is, it wipes out a majority of Southern California forcing people to the highland areas, which includes Upland, more than doubling their 70,000 population.”
“The goal and mission was to come into an area or region and assist with efforts in order to coordinate with setting up displaced civilian camps and to coordinate with the agencies local to Upland, to assist however possible,” Vidmar adds.
Maj. Tobey Humphries, company commander of Alpha, 425th CA Bn., is aware that the situation is a bit ‘Hollywood,’ but that was the intent in planning his unit’s two-week long annual training.
“It’s a storyline that they are actually able to sink their teeth into, understand, and keep them motivated throughout the whole process,” said Humphries.
Humphries took his company through the entire mobilization process of receiving a warning order, completing soldier readiness processing, deploying as a unit, occupying a building as their base of operation, setting up a tactical operation center, and applying civil affairs methodology to create a civil affairs annex which ultimately helps the commander on the ground understand the human terrain.
“First we started with key structures crucial to survival: shelter, water, food, and means of getting more food,” said Humphries. “The concern we had with an increase of population was with having enough water, and are there systems in place for sewage, shelter, and adequate housing for displaced civilians. The soldiers started there and they actually went through the process to identify and set up these key leader engagements themselves.”
“My mission this morning was to see the safety officer and director of San Antonio Community Hospital,” explains Spc. Iris Martinez-Silva, a civil affairs specialist. “We pretty much went in there to see what their capabilities were and whether they had established a disaster plan, which they did. The director went into depth with that they had, the contingency plans, secondary, primary, everything about their disaster plans.”
As part of the training, soldiers were also able to meet with members of the city council, Upland Police Department, Upland Fire Department, West Coast College nursing section, and a local food bank to better understand their organizations and capabilities. They also visited several schools in Upland and the surrounding area to conduct assessments on possible locations to establish dislocated civilian camps.
“I think this annual training will help in a real-world situation because we have to look at every department and the city as a whole,” said Martinez-Silva. “Within every city they have police stations, fire stations, hospitals, etc. Now when we go somewhere we can see how everything ties together. We know who to talk to, what to ask, what to talk about, what’s important for the mission and to see where exactly it is that our influence can be best used.”
The final event of the annual training was to give the mayor of Upland and the battalion commander of the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion a course-of-action brief.
Following the briefing, Mayor Ray Musser spoke directly to the soldiers and mentioned that even though their scenario was a tad outlandish, it’s still a possibility on a smaller scale.
He recounted to them a similar incident that happened in 1969, a flood occurred in Upland, not once but twice within a two-week period. The streets were shut down; making it impossible for anyone to head east and the only way to receive supplies or get in or out of the area was via a helicopter that was staged at a shopping area.
“There are so many take-aways for me as a Mayor, the one who is responsible for the city,” said Musser. “I need to be prepared when that moment comes and this really gave me ideas of what to anticipate. The better you know the plan, the better you will perform and the better the whole thing will play out.”