News: Military, civilian agencies participate in Vigilant Guard
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
PHOENIX – Firefighters and civil support team members donned hazardous materials suits in response to a building that collapsed when a nuclear bomb detonation downtown, generating thousands of wounded.
Teams of civilian and military personnel quickly assembled near the site to establish a command center when there was a sudden pause as someone cried “exercise, exercise, exercise” to stop the action and assemble the role players.
This notional emergency exercise called Vigilant Guard hosted 8,000 personnel from more than 250 local, state, and federal agencies here Nov. 3-6.
“Vigilant Guard is a U.S. Northern Command sponsored exercise,” said Air Force Gen. Jose Salinas, the director of Joint Staff for the Arizona National Guard, and the dual status commander for this exercise. “The main purpose is for staffs like the kind that I command to interact with their civil emergency management within the state.”
After the events of 9/11, it was clear that a system needed to be created to ensure that one command and control center was set and communication barriers amongst the different agencies was kept to a minimum, according to the U.S. Northern Command website.
Vigilant Guard, the largest multiagency exercise conducted in Arizona history, gave all the different agencies an opportunity to come together and test interoperability and communication within a simulated exercise.
The exercise began with a mock state-level emergency where Tropical Storm Quincy dropped about 10 inches of rain in Goodyear at the Perryville Prison, approximately 20 miles west of downtown Phoenix. As a result, flooding occurred along with a threat of a nearby dam breaking.
“In this event, we look at what would happen where we would need National Guard intervention,” said Judy Frigo, the warden of the State and Perryville Prison. “We also observe how our communication would work between the NG and DOC staff and what our roles would be – who would be in charge.”
With the assistance of the Arizona National Guard’s 855th Military Police Company, the Arizona Department of Corrections personnel were tasked with the scenario to transfer role-play inmates from the facility to a temporary secured area.
Additionally, the 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from the Arizona National Guard provided engineer teams to respond to the dam at the White Tank Mountains.
“We deployed two engineer assessment teams specially trained to monitor and evaluate the topography of the area and ensure, if there was going to be additional flooding or the dam was going to break, we would be prepared to respond quickly,” said Maj. Jon Gutierrez, battle major for the 158th MEB.
This training provided an example on how the National Guard can be utilized within a local capacity, for civil non-combat missions.
“The liaisons from both sides have communicated well and we have been able to show the DOC what we are capable of at a local level,” said 1st Lt. Glenn Ray, acting company commander of the 855th MP Company. “Because of this training, the DOC has been able to see how we can help augment their forces when it comes to an emergency such as this, and we are not always just about showing up with weapons and wearing full body armor.”
The training proved to be a learning lesson for all involved, especially since this was the first time the 855th MP Company had worked with a civilian agency in this capacity.
“We are more of a combat unit and focus on law and order, so having this type of training prepares us for real-life scenarios and how we can partner with civilian agencies in the future,” Ray said.
DOC personnel took some notes of their own, since this was their first time working with the National Guard as well.
“While I cannot go into the specifics of what we observed and took from this, I can say that our guys definitely saw some things that we are going to discuss with our own staff later,” Frigo said. “It was really interesting to see the MPs go into action. They were all very professional and never allowed the acting inmates’ behaviors to decide on how they were going to respond to an incident.”
As the flooding scenario subsided, the next exercise began when a scenario of a 10 kiloton improvised nuclear device was detonated in downtown Phoenix, affecting as many as 57,000 people.
Local emergency first responders arrived on scene and began rescue efforts. Once they were on scene and had found that their own resources had been exhausted, they turned to others for assistance.
“The first responders typically respond to an emergency situation within 5 minutes on a day-to-day basis,” said Mike Reichling, the public information officer for the Tempe Fire Department. “This scenario creates circumstances where the incident has gone beyond the resources of the local responders, so we must request assistance from the national system where the military steps in.”
National Guard civil support teams, chemical companies and medical groups from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Minnesota, Utah, and Montana participated in this part of the exercise.
Although, the training was condensed to three days for scenario purposes, the participating states were given a few extra days to set up and prepare.
“What we wanted to do, since this was going to actually be a two-day exercise, was to bring everyone in early on to begin planning and establishing the staff,” Salinas said. “As the flood scenario ended, the 10Kt IND detonated and I had everyone ready to go so we can flow smoothly from the flood to the bomb exercise.”
At this stage of the event, the state emergency response was activated and additional help was requested, which is protocol for the Emergency Management Assistant Compacts.
“All of the governors in the United States have signed this document, which enables states to share resources quickly when we have an incident so we don’t waste time,” Salinas said. “We always try to solve the problem at the lowest level first, but as a situation grows is when we must turn to those other resources.”
While hundreds of volunteers acting as role-play injured laid on the ground or ran around screaming for help, agency personnel set up a perimeter with decontamination and medical tents ready for incoming wounded.
As rescue missions began, where – for safety reasons – mannequins were used to stage a trapped victims, special rescue teams from NG units were sent in to assist with these efforts.
“As part of our role with the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enhanced response force package, we support local first responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the event of a disaster,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Brown, a medic with the 140th Medical Group from the Colorado National Guard. “My goal is to go in with a search and extraction team and provide medical intervention and do whatever it takes to stabilize a person who is injured.”
Because each agency and military unit may have their own methods of communicating and commanding, this was a part of the exercise that took extra time to launch.
“We have to work hard in making sure all our communications are maintained and that we can all understand the different services’ and departments’ communication capabilities and terminologies,” Gutierrez said. “If we don’t have that communication established, then the teamwork cannot be sustained.”
Just as in any other event that can occur, preparing is an essential part of knowing what to do in the event of an emergency and when thousands of lives are at stake, it is imperative that the agencies who come to the rescue already know how to work together, which minimizes confusion.
“The time to build relationships isn’t two o’clock in the morning, the time is now,” Reichling said. “Bringing all the leaders and troops together during a controlled environment this is how we build those relationships and we understand how each entity works.”