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Col. Wes. S. Weston, the logistics section chief for the emergency operations center simulation, explains the emergency operations data collected to the logistics section during the debrief Feb 11.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly

Simulation prepares Combat Center for natural disasters

18 Feb 2010 | Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly

Due to the recent snowstorms in Washington, D.C., Army National Guardsmen have been called upon to augment the Metropolitan Police Department, fire departments, and Department of Transportation.

While the Combat Center may not face crippling snowstorms, it does face natural disasters from time to time, and could be called upon to aid the local community in the event of an emergency or catastrophe.

With this in mind, more than 130 service members, contractors and civilians took time out of their normal work routines to participate in the first exercise for the new Emergency Management Program, said Deb S. Helton, the installation emergency manager.

The EMP simulates how the emergency operations center would respond to an earthquake in the Morongo Basin, and how the Combat Center would aid the local municipalities in emergency situations or with emergency services. To do this, key personnel created a mock EOC was created Feb. 11 to rehearse a disaster response.

“Today is a functional exercise of our emergency operations center for a natural disaster, for an earthquake,” said the Wooster, Ohio native. “It could apply to situations other than an earthquake, but today’s is an earthquake.”

“Prior to the program, there was no program in place which specifically targeted large, domestic disasters,” she said. “We had all of these specialty areas, which would certainly respond and we would coordinate under our normal chain of command.

“The emergency management program is set up to actually work through all of the issues surrounding a domestic incident,” she added.

Participants, including installation emergency responders, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Division workers, medical staff from the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital and others, came together to contribute to the emergency response of the simulated disasters to see how those processes should work.

“This training and this exercise are both vital to the operation in a real life scenario and our ability to function as units working together to achieve one objective,” said Darlene Hull, an assistant fire chief for the Combat Center Fire Department, and a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., native.

This dedication to and realizing of the value of preemptive planning has also been embraced by the installation staff, said Helton.

Col. John P. Holden, the Combat Center’s chief of staff, emphasized the importance of the geographical location of the Combat Center, and the importance of the roads leading out of the Morongo Basin.

If those roads were cut off, the Combat Center would not only have to take care of the installation and all of the families supporting the installation, but also interact with the surrounding communities, said the Chicago native.

“We are working on building those relationships with the municipalities and the county so that we could assist inside the Morongo Basin,” Helton said. “It’s a good idea to start planning ahead of time so we establish some parameters and manage the expectations with the municipalities.”

Even though it was a simulation, the personnel working in the EOC were performing as if there was an earthquake had taken place in Yucca Valley, Calif.

“What we can’t afford to do is wait for the event to happen before we start thinking about how we are going to address it,” Holden said.

This need to address and practice the processes of emergency management and information sharing was felt at all levels in the chain of command.

“This is the first time we have done something like this,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon S. Patton, an operations clerk with the Exercise Support Division, who is a Detroit native. “At first, we didn’t know what information we needed to get out. Now that we actually know, we will have the information ready quicker.”

The EMP exists because the directorates and tenant units aboard the Combat Center participated in building it, Helton said. Without their support and dedication this program could not have been built, because this process involves absolutely everyone, she said.

This functional exercise is preparation for a full scale exercise aboard the installation scheduled for May 17-21.

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