By SOF Editor on Thu, 11/05/2009 - 11:21am
The New York National Guard along with local officials from Erie County and the cities of Tonawanda, Buffalo and Niagara Falls joined with other state, regional and federal officials to formally announce the launch of the largest emergency response exercise to have ever been conducted in Western New York.
"Vigilant Guard is an opportunity for military and civilian professionals to train together and prepare for a potential catastrophe we all naturally hope will never happen," said Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey, commander of the Guard's Joint Task Force 6, based in Buffalo.
The Guard's statewide emergency plans are formulated around regional commands which combine Army and Air National Guard forces in order to speed and facilitate military support. "At the former Spaulding Fibre Plant site, we have specifically constructed a disaster scene so that specialized National Guard and emergency response teams can work together to practice life saving skills," said Swezey.
"Under this exercise's earthquake scenario, Governor David Paterson has mobilized the Guard and ordered us to State Active Duty to assist local officials and emergency responders who have been overwhelmed by a catastrophic event. Vigilant Guard is allowing us to practice what we may have to do and in the manner we will need to should a real event actually occur," he said.
Hundreds of New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, as well as other National Guard troops from Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states are flowing through the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to provide military support to the region which was notionally struck by an earthquake last week. During the first days following the simulated impact, local officials have been assessing the situation and reached up to the state seeking additional help, including military assistance.
This is a full-scale exercise running November 1-6 at different locations in Erie and Niagara counties and in New York City to test and exercise emergency plans and procedures. The Erie County Emergency Operations Center in Cheektowaga, and the New York State Emergency Operations Center and the National Guard's Joint Operation Center, both in Albany, are also in operation.
This week's training is the culmination of months of preparation and coordination between military and civil authority partners involved in the effort.
"As we've seen in this community between the October Storm of 2006, the Hepatitis-A scare and the crash of Flight 3407, it's vital for our first responders to be able to work with agencies at multiple levels of government," said Erie County Executive Chris Collins. "Our response to each of these incidents would not have gone as well as it did if not for the extensive training our local first responders receive. This Vigilant Guard exercise will enhance our ability to respond to large scale crisis situations, and will allow our local emergency teams to interact with their colleagues at the state and federal level."
"We welcome Vigilant Guard and all of its participants to our city," said Mayor Ron Pilozzi of Tonawanda. "We are pleased to host such an important event that will benefit many agencies and departments including our own police, fire and emergency medical staff. The National Guard has been working closely with us for many weeks in preparation and to minimize possible disruptions to traffic and normal activities in our city. As mayor I am grateful for the community support and public appreciation for the importance of this exercise," he said.
John R. Gibb, director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, said, "The axiom 'Practice makes perfect' is appropriate when describing exercises such as Vigilant Guard. The citizens of New York State expect State and local forces to work together when incidents large or small strike their communities.
"It's through these exercises that we practice our plans and hone our skills to ensure a quick and effective response much like what occurred this past August when men and women from the National Guard joined hundreds of state personnel and local responders in response to the devastating floods in Erie, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties," he said. "Our participation in Vigilant Guard will help us to collectively enhance our response and recovery capabilities in the region."
While the focus of this week's Vigilant Guard exercise is on enhancing the community's response to any emergency, the likelihood of a significant seismic event occurring in Western New York is not as remote as many think, said Robert D. Jacobi, PhD, University at Buffalo professor of geology.
"During the past 20 years, geologic research that I have conducted with my colleagues at UB and other institutions has led to an understanding that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Western New York - in fact, the entire state -- is crisscrossed by literally hundreds of faults," said Jacobi. "Many of them, including the largest in our area, the Clarendon-Linden Fault, remain seismically active today."
Vigilant Guard is a national exercise program sponsored by the National Guard Bureau and United States Northern Command to provide a training opportunity for National Guard forces for state emergency response and exercise relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats, including natural disasters and terrorist attack.
More than 1,300 National Guard troops from New York and other states are participating this week along with local, state, county and city emergency response units and agencies. It will provide a realistic training opportunity for emergency response and military officials to coordinate in order to protect lives and property.
Nationally, there are four Vigilant Guard exercises each year. Two exercises are aligned with national-level exercises such as Vigilant Shield and Ardent Sentry. The other two are regional "stand-alone" events, primarily with regional partners.
Vigilant Guard will help both the National Guard and civilian leaders practice command and control functions and Defense Support of Civil Authorities with the various government partners through a realistic learning environment to benefit all participants.