YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan - A UH-1N Huey helicopter crew from Yokota Air Base participated in the Emergency Response Aviation Help Drill in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, Feb. 5.
The Yokota helicopter crew supported first responders from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Japan Coast Guard, Shizuoka Prefectural Police, Shizuoka City Fire Department, Japan Disaster Medical Assistance Team and U.S. Forces, Japan.
This was the first time U.S. Forces, Japan participated in the drill and assisted in performing a simulated mass casualty evacuation utilizing a UH-1N Huey helicopter from the 459th Airlift Squadron at Yokota.
"Being asked to participate in a Japanese civilian exercise is a great honor. If our Japanese partners ever need assistance, this exercise proves that we are ready and willing to help. It is great training for us as we get to fly in a different area of the country and land at new sites," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Hank Luke, 374th Operations Group deputy chief of standardization and evaluation.
Yokota’s involvement with the exercise began to take shape when the Shizuoka government asked how Yokota could help if a disaster happened.
In January, Maj. Luke briefed the governor on Yokota’s airlift capabilities and was invited to participate.
The scenario simulated the emergency response efforts required in the event a devastating earthquake or tsunami occurred in Shizuoka Prefecture.
After a natural disaster, mountain areas can be isolated by the cutoff of roads, and coastal areas can be isolated following a tsunami. First responders can encounter difficulty accessing these areas by land routes when conducting search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations.
Airlift support is an important component to relief efforts in the region. The Shin-Tomei Expressway is the major road for relief and has installed helipads in the service and parking areas as hubs between airlift and ground support areas.
"It was great that there were helipads on the highway, because in an emergency, it is the easiest place for an ambulance to drive and relief efforts (to occur)," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Laslie Charles, 374th Medical Operations Squadron independent duty medical technician.
The Tokai region, which includes Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie Prefectures, experienced a devastating earthquake in 1854, known as the Magnitude 8.4 Ansei-Tokai earthquake. Since then, seismic activity has been quiet in the region for almost 160 years.
The prefectural governments regularly prepare for potential earthquakes by conducting rescue training.
"Today’s event was a proof of concept type of exercise. The next phase of participation will be to actually load casualties or carry supplies to landing zones. Exercises such as this are an important part of strengthening our relationship with the Japanese people. Yokota Air Base is already planning on participating in the next drill," Luke said.