News: Major exercise builds solidarity amongst local, state, federal agencies
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — More than 9,000 service members and civilians from across the United States came to Indiana and northern Kentucky to participate in 200 separate training events at 50 different places during Vibrant Response 13.
The 19-day major incident response exercise brings together local, state and federal agencies, including Department of Defense resources; it is conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North. The exercise lasts from July 26 through August 13.
The scenario itself is a daunting one – a (simulated) 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in a major Midwestern city – and is pivotal in its scope. It provides leaders the ability to confirm the training and readiness of the nation’s new Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise. The exercise required a unique collection of specialized military units, under the command and control of Joint Task Force – Civil Support, based out of Fort Eustis, Va., and under the guidance and operational control of U.S. Army North.
“Because of the level of complexity, we have had to build this [exercise] in order to confirm the capabilities of our response forces,” said Col. Dick Francey, U.S. Army North’s chief of staff, who served as the commander of the operations group for the exercise. “It has made it possible and beneficial for other federal, state and local agencies to participate. This involvement goes to further the realism of the exercise.”
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the exercise is the opportunity to directly interface with non-Department of Defense members, who provide valued insights on issues that might arise during an actual disaster.
“The exercise features a simulated death count of over 300,000 [victims],” said Justo Hernandez, a team leader with FEMA. “We don’t even have that many body bags, much less a plan to notify that many families. But, we need to discuss a plan for that with all of those who are, or would be, involved in a catastrophe of this magnitude.”
It is insights such as that that makes the Vibrant Response exercise valuable because it provides the participants the opportunity to coordinate their efforts and further enhance their communication capabilities. They can then use those shared experiences, at both the leader and operator levels, to refine their plans to react if a disaster of this magnitude occurs.
Vibrant Response 13 also provides leaders the opportunity to work on the necessary measures they need to get the right capability, to the right places, as soon as possible, without causing increased strain on local resources.
“It’s just not possible for the individual commander to pull all these other organizations together for training,” said Col. Sharon Wisniewski, chief personnel officer, U.S. Army North.
And it is that training that will pay the largest dividends if the participants are ever called upon.
“We can never say that we are ready, said Hernandez. “What we can do, however, is training such as this.”