News: National Level Exercise showcases Guard’s interagency operability
Story by Tech. Sgt. Johnathon Orrell
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
ARLINGTON, Va. – As of noon EST, about 9,000 National Guard members were activated in support of National Level Exercise 11, the National Guard Bureau’s director of domestic operations and force development said here, May 17.
NLE 11 – the nation’s largest-ever multi-agency exercise involving an actual natural threat – is based on a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Earthquake Zone. The exercise is intended to build relationships while developing communication and interagency plans to properly respond to an incident of this level, Army Maj. Gen. David Harris said.
In the simulated environment of the NLE 11, National Guard members – along with U.S. Northern Command, Federal Emergency Management Agency and active-duty personnel – are working to develop command and control of state and federal assets in the affected regions.
“In the first 24 hours everything is fairly chaotic,” Harris said. “Then we quickly start getting a handle on it and getting a better picture, which should clear up today, as we continue to push resources on a steady basis to those affected states.”
The affected states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee have activated members of their National Guard to assist with recovery operations.
“We’re working with those states to do the assessments on what they need, providing search and rescue, security forces, medical forces, aviation assets, back-up generators and portable communication systems,” Harris said.
In the developing exercise scenario, the National Guard Bureau is in good communication with state joint forces headquarters and those JFHQs in turn are in good communication with their units, but commercial communication in most of the affected areas is limited or nonexistent.
“Our initial effort is to provide communication capability to the first responders, both military and civilian, to get that network up and running,” Harris said.
Because the sight picture is continuously changing in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, he is hesitant to say where the greatest damage is, but said there is significant damage in Tennessee and Mississippi, as well as initial reports of damage in Indiana. Assessment reports on the extent of damage of the entire affected areas are still coming in.
In light of recent natural and manmade disasters worldwide, Harris said that exercises like the NLE 11 are integral to the development of a fluid plan to improve responders’ efficiency and effectiveness.
“We must have an understanding of who’s going to do what and where and why,” he said. “Otherwise you end up with people doing the same effort for the same thing, or not putting any effort into an area that we should.”
Harris said that some issues brought to light by exercises such as NLE 11 – such as organization and staffing – can be solved quickly, but others – such as communication package and hardware issues – take a little more planning and budgeting to fix.
“That’s why exercises like this are important, to show those potential shortfalls,” Harris said.
Recent Southern tornados and Midwest flooding are proof that exercises are important for the National Guard, he said.
“We have worried for a long time about our capability to respond to an event that was a multistate, multiregional event separated by time and distance,” he said. “How would we command and control that, how would we respond to it with our resources when they are limited?
“You can only replicate that in table-top exercises,” he said. “Then you need to roll out a bigger [command post exercise] to include some of the [field training exercise] that goes with it to make sure you can do it.”
The more you can practice at the actual operations tempo of a real-world event, the more successful everyone will be, Harris said.
“The more you can replicate the fog of war, the more you’ll learn and the better off you’ll be as a result of it,” he said.