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Vigilant Triad 2012 tests Fort McCoy's emergency management plan

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Fort McCoy conducted an emergency response exercise Jan. 26 to test and observe garrison staff reactions to various incidents across the installation.

The exercise, Vigilant Triad 2012, fulfilled the Installation Management Command (IMCOM) annual requirement to conduct a full-scale exercise to refine and improve emergency responses to natural and man-made incidents. Disasters such as the Fort Hood shooting, the large tornado at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the ice storm at Fort Knox, Ky., and the flooding of military facilities along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 2011 continue to make emergency-response actions important to the Department of Defense.

The purpose of the exercise was to exercise and validate Phase I (preparation) and Phase II (response) of the Installation Emergency Management Plan. The exercise also tested and validated all communication systems at directorate- and tenant-activity levels and integrated communications into incident-response and recovery operations. Various scenarios conducted across the cantonment area tested the installation's capabilities and allowed evaluators to critique performances.

Brad Stewart, Fort McCoy director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said the scenarios were based on the commander's training objectives.

"From the exercise we have learned the personnel working at Fort McCoy are very good at what they do in support of emergencies," Stewart said. "The primary lesson we brought out of the exercise is to concentrate on how we present and share information among the garrison directorates and the tenant units and activities we support, and our ability to track execution of tasks within the Installation Emergency Operations Center (IEOC)."

Installation personnel and residents were subjected to real-time changes to traffic patterns and other delays because of exercise events, which included traffic accidents, downed trees and power lines, a simulated collapsed building and the evacuation of a recreation area. Fort McCoy personnel also were integrated into the exercise by updating their personnel accountability information in the Army Disaster Personnel Accountability and Assessment System to ensure their emergency contact information was available to installation officials.

Ted Richmond, assistant fire chief, and Adam Ballard, deputy fire chief for the Fort McCoy Fire Department, said the scenarios allowed fire department personnel to test and evaluate their capabilities and communications between the scene and the IEOC.

"The exercise gives us a chance to use our resources and to prepare for emergency responses," Richmond said. "If you don't practice it, you won't be ready to do it when you need to do it."

Ballard said incidents of this magnitude quickly would overwhelm fire department resources.

The fire department exercised the department's existing mutual aid agreements. The department simulated calling for the resources that they would need for this type of emergency response. Personnel had to factor in the time it would take for the resources to get to Fort McCoy and learn how to best use personnel and equipment assets as they became available.

"We will do the best we can until the resources get here," Richmond said. "The first thing we would do is save lives. The second is to preserve and conserve property and then we would protect the environment."

Ballard said the exercise was the first time that the department used its new mobile command unit (MCU), which allows for onsite command and control. The MCU is equipped with all the communication and command equipment needed for incidents such as the one exercised. The exercise also allowed the department to evaluate, validate and improve its emergency plans.

"We learned about things we could fix and things we can do to make our operations better for the future," Ballard said. "It's also a good time to introduce the newer people we have to the (emergency) process and what they would do in emergencies, such as a structural collapse."

Liane Haun, Chief, Master Planning Division, Directorate of Public Works (DPW), said the DPW had seven objectives, which included exercising the DPW Help Line and testing a number of emergency action plans and emergency response times.

One of the scenarios was to evacuate the Pine View Campground near Squaw Lake by exercising the emergency action plan for the Squaw Lake dam. Another was to evaluate the DPW Roads and Grounds response time to enact a barrier plan.

"The call roster (for evacuating the Squaw Lake dam) went as planned and we were able to successfully evacuate the campground during this exercise, allowing us the ability to understand how we would function if the need to evacuate the campground (occurred) in the future," she said.

Stewart said Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.; Detroit Arsenal; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Riley, Kan., provided personnel to observe and evaluate the exercise.

"The team provided us valuable feedback from their objective assessments of our operations that we can use in the future to improve our response to emergencies," Stewart said. "We also can establish partnerships with each other and exchange information to help us continue to improve our plans."

Members of the Fort McCoy community should feel confident the installation has plans, procedures and well-trained personnel ready to respond to emergencies, Stewart said. All installation communication methods will be used to keep personnel informed, including e-mail, Fort McCoy's command channel (TV-6), directorate and tenant liaisons and runners from the IEOC if necessary. Stewart said this also would include using technology, such as BlackBerrys, cell phones, smart phones, etc., as a force multiplier.

Personnel in the Fort McCoy community can help prepare themselves and, subsequently the installation, for future emergencies by taking heed of the Ready Army program, Stewart said.

This includes documenting current emergency contact information and assembling a Ready Army emergency kit.

Ready Army information can be found online on the Fort McCoy Corporate Network or in print at the Army Community Service Center (building 2111), the Rumpel Fitness Center (building 1122), the Community Activity Center (building 2000), and building 102.

Article by Rob Schuette, Fort McCoy Public Affairs