JTF-CS, DOD domestic response force train to worst-case scenario: nuclear detonation in U.S. city
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. Many Americans’ worst nightmare has just come true. A five kiloton nuclear device
was detonated in a major U.S. metropolis. The nation is under attack. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, thousands more
That was the scenario for Joint Task Force Civil Support and the Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN)
Response Force during Vibrant Response 13. Vibrant Response is an annual, national-level training exercise used by U.S. Northern
Command and led by U.S. Army North to certify select military units’ abilities to conduct life-saving and life-sustaining operations.
The exercise also tests the military’s ability to integrate with local, state and federal government agencies following a catastrophic
More than 9,000 service members and civilians took part in the exercise from July 26 - Aug. 14 at the Army’s urban disaster
training area in Muscatatuck, Ind., as well as 10 other training areas and airfields throughout southern Indiana and northern
JTF-CS and more than 4,000 service members and civilians of the Response Force participated in the first phase of Vibrant Response
July 26 – Aug. 4. Phase two of the exercise, which ends Aug. 14, involves certification of more than 4,500 additional U.S. Army North
military responders who are responding to a separate scenario: detonation of three radiological dispersal devices.
Scattered throughout more than 36 locations within the continental U.S., the Response Force is divided into deployable force
packages designed to respond within set time periods following a catastrophic CBRN incident. The first force package, designed to
respond to an incident within 24 hours of activation, is front loaded with various life-saving military assets, such as search and
rescue and emergency medical treatment personnel and equipment. Follow on forces provide more long-term logistical, engineering and
medical support. Made up of military units from all branches of service, these forces must be able to integrate with not only
National Guard units, but also civilian, federal, state and local responders as well.
Still, JTF-CS and the Response Force respond only at the request of a state Governor, on approval of the secretary of defense
and the U.S. president, and always in support of a lead federal agency, such as FEMA.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Mathis III, commander, JTF-CS, said this type of field exercise is vital for validating the DCRF’s
capability to respond to a catastrophic incident and be able to “meet the call of duty.”
“This is a very laser-focused radiological response force that is thinking about search and rescue, mass casualty decontamination,
medical triage and medical evacuation,” said Mathis. “I am confident that if we are called for duty, our personnel will be able to
meet the point of impact and do those kinds of things.”
Equally important to validating the Response Force’s life-saving capabilities was the opportunity for JTF-CS to interact directly
with other federal, state and local level response agencies, such as FEMA, state National Guard units and local first responders.
JTF-CS trains and plans to integrate seamlessly with these agencies before an incident occurs. That way, less times is spent on roles
and responsibilities during a response and is instead focused on saving lives.
“We’ve made huge strides in coordinating with our community of partners and synchronizing together,” said Mathis. “Otherwise, we
wouldn’t be very effective. I’ve talked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about exercise operations and our coordination
will just continue to get better.”
Training with agencies that JTF-CS would actually work and interact with during a catastrophic incident made Vibrant Response that
much more valuable, according to Mathis. The ability to integrate resources quickly, such as communications systems, allows JTF-CS
and the Response Force to begin life-saving operations faster. JTF-CS and other agencies can then use those shared experiences, to
refine future planning efforts if a real disaster were to occur.
Mathis also said that simulating 400,000 casualties and three to four million evacuees in the scenario, the exercise scope was
vast. Still, the Response Force maximized its resources to perform 82 life-saving and life-sustaining missions in support of the
state-led response during the exercise. Military search and rescue teams decontaminated, triaged and evacuated more than 800
survivors in the first 48 hours of the simulated response – an effort that received praise from the local “incident commander.”
“One of the great things about our military is when Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are given a mission, they throw
themselves into it,” said Mathis. “There is absolutely a dedication to do everything they can to get it right and get the most
training out of any exercise.”
JTF-CS redeployed to Fort Eustis, Va., Aug. 4, but the training exercise will continue until Aug. 13. National Guard units,
including homeland response forces and other elements of the DOD’s CBRN Response Enterprise, continue to focus their training on
conducting aviation, medical, engineering, logistics and life-saving tasks under conditions such as wearing protective clothing,
providing information to a highly stressed public, and establishing logistics and communications where the infrastructure has been