News: Texas brigade engages emergency conference
Story by Staff Sgt. Melissa Bright
SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Just a short stroll from the cool recesses of the San Antonio Riverwalk hundreds of men and women stopped by the Joint Task Force -71 equipment display to learn about their swift response capabilities during the 2011 Texas Emergency Management Conference in San Antonio April 26-29.
Held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the conference boasted representatives from more than 30 agencies on the Governor’s Emergency Management Council, public officials from the local, state and national governments, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
With so many key figures in the same place at the same time, JTF-71 leaders felt the conference provided a perfect opportunity to give an inside look at the make-up and resources available through their military organization.
“We are here continuing to clarify our mission, share success stories and build relationships," said Maj. Bobbie Jackson, commander of the 6th Civil Support Team, headquartered in Austin. “We go all across Texas assisting fire departments and homeland security organizations from Laredo to Amarillo. But there are still a lot of people that don't know who we are or what we can do."
To achieve this task, a crew from each component of the task force set up several pieces of equipment in the JTF-71 arsenal for the steady stream of key decision makers, project managers and city planning officials inside the convention center.
"We bring out a small portion of our trucks, trailers and tents to different events as a way to visually explain what we do the same way the Sheriff's Department has their personnel and equipment with them," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Snyder with the 436th Chemical Company Detachment out of Austin pointing to the 18-wheeler parked beside the JTF-71 display.
To help explain the medical resources available for rapid deployment, the 149th Small Portable Expeditionary Aeromedical Rapid Response unit from San Antonio brought their mobile medical station. It's a tent designed as a self contained facility used individually or as part of several field hospitals during day to day care of military personnel, civil & natural disaster relief situations, emergencies, humanitarian and refugee aid operations.
In addition to stopping inside the medical tent, the visitors toured the first response decontamination trailer belonging to 436th. The trailer is designed to manage chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and hazmat incident needs, and can be quickly set up and the decontamination process implemented on site inside 10 minutes.
"We can walk a crisis manager through the entire decontamination process," said Snyder. "They come away from one of these conferences with a memory of our equipment and our personnel and take it back with them to draw on when they start their planning processes," Snyder explained.
The equipment that received the most attention belonged to the 836th Engineer Company from Kingsville. As a search and rescue and extraction unit, their members are trained to find, immobilize and transport casualties from collapsed buildings and the life-like dummies strapped to an emergency field stretcher and suspended from a tripod took many by surprise.
"I just wanted to come over and say thank you for helping out with our [CBRN] exercise last November," said Janet Carrington, Homeland Security Task Force coordinator for Fayette County to Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Buck, operations manager for the 6th CERFP. "But I might just ask if I can take a nap in that thing."
"It's great to see the people we have worked with before and there’s a lot of great information passed between agencies when we attend one of these conferences,” said Buck. “Although [CBRN task force] have been around for years, we find that the organizations we come in contact with for the first time are sometimes completely unfamiliar with what [we] can provide, and having a venue like this is a tremendous opportunity to explain what we can do before disaster strikes."
Behind him stood a 10-foot wall of photos and diagrams highlighting the role the units under JTF 71 played in assisting civil authorities during Texas natural and man-made disasters, including the recent bird deaths in Austin and the chemical plant explosion in Crosby.
"This is a great way to remind agencies of what we have done in the past and how we can help in the future," said Buck.
Guest speaker, Army Col. William Hall, JTF-71 commander, spoke at the conference about his brigade's role in servicing the great state of Texas.
TXMF has been assisting state agencies for a very long time in one form or another, said Hall. But once Texas was designated to be one of the states with a homeland response force, Texas' capabilities were expanded exponentially. We are now endowned with full-time personnel, funding to field our personnel and equipment, contacts to pull in additional resources from outside of our state and the command structure needed to successfully complete our mission.
In all "the conference was a great opportunity for JTF-71 to showcase our capability and establish new partnerships with local, state and federal partners; it allowed members of JTF-71 to re-blue ourselves on the [domestic] threat and other organization's capabilities. It was a great primer for Hurricane Season," Hall concluded.