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News | June 18, 2019

FEMA, state, military, Guard, CAP, volunteers, rehearse whole-of-government crisis response

By Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Roganov Joint Task Force Civil Support

Exercise Ardent Sentry 2019 (AS-19), a response to a simulated devastating earthquake, took place May 29 through June 5 in various locations across the United States.

“We will not be late to need when our federal partners require our support,” said Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) commander.

AS-19 was a U.S. Northern Command-led exercise that supported FEMA's Exercise Shaken Fury, running concurrently. Some National Guard units participated responding within the catastrophic earthquake scenario through their exercise, Vigilant Guard. 

“They all folded into the goal of supporting the national response framework for a coordinated response and recovery by interagency partners if called upon to provide help to civil authorities,” according to Hans Lageschulte, Joint Task Force (JTF-CS) exercise program manager, Operations Directorate.

Shaken Fury simulated a "no-notice" catastrophic earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) that impacted eight states including Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. AS-19 was mostly a command-post exercise, accomplished from command centers on computers using simulated troop movements. Vigilant Guard provided hands-on activities like roof-top water rescues of people role-playing as survivors and more. 

Most of the training took place in Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri, with people in various roles participating from locations in Washington D.C., Colorado, Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Florida. The Georgia National Guard, to include the CBRNE Enhanced Response Force also trained, supporting Shaken Fury, with almost 250 Air and Army National Guard members testing the synergy necessary to support the community during natural disasters.
U.S. Army North served as the overall commander of land forces responding to the simulated earthquake and for the first time, employed Task Force 51 and JTF-CS as geographically separated subordinate joint task forces to test the ability of all three units to conduct distributed command and control in this very complex situation. The state partners included the Mississippi Army Guard and the Tennessee Air and Army National Guard. 

Vigilant Guard is a U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau sponsored event that simulates a real-world natural disaster to improve on emergency response and relief. 

"This was vital training for us as part of an integrated response to meet the needs of our nation if ever we are called upon to provide assistance," said Army Maj. Gen. Bill Hall, commander, JTF-CS. "We hope a catastrophic event never happens, but if it were to, rest assured that we have people training and planning year-round to provide life-saving and life-sustaining capabilities for such a whole-of-government response."

“The Tennessee Volunteer Challenge Academy provided victim role-players so Tennessee Air National Guard medical technicians could rehearse their mass-casualty assistance skills,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Jeremy Cornelius, public affairs superintendent, 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard.

Guard members also honed their skills using incident awareness and assessment tools. One such capability was the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft which can be used during domestic operations to quickly respond to a natural or man-made disasters when civilian lives are at risk.

“The Tennessee Air National Guard flew an MQ-9 over Tennessee during Exercise Shaken Fury and the results were phenomenal,” said Air Force Colonel Keith Allbritten, 118th Wing Commander.  “They are used to respond to lost hikers, wildfires, flooding, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters. These aircraft help emergency responders get to the incident faster to save lives, avert human suffering, stabilize incidents, and mitigate property damage.”

When conducting such activities, the total force military accomplishes its mission in strict adherence with the principles of the Constitution and public law.

The Defense Coordinating Officer/Elements in Regions IV, VI, VII, VIII and four states’ dual status commanders from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi took part as well as the Region VII emergency preparedness liaison officers and other liaisons, according to U.S. Army North. 

“These supporters working in the various states work together to ensure FEMA, the supported lead federal agency in the scenario, had all the resources they needed to accomplish the disaster relief mission in a safe manner,” said Lageschulte.

Members of a Civil Air Patrol mobile operations center also practiced their skills during Exercise AS-19 as an official auxiliary of the Air Force, and trained alongside the Mississippi National Guard and multiple local, state, and federal agencies to enhance readiness for natural disasters.

In Florida, the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region – First Air Force (AFNORTH), the air component to U.S. Northern Command, Air Forces Northern provided support through the 601st Air Operations Center, known as “America’s AOC,” among other 1AF support. The 1AF capabilities include search and rescue, aerial imagery assessment and analysis, medical personnel, airlift, and other important support functions.

“The devastation of an earthquake comes without warning,” said Col. John Grimes, acting CONR-1AF operations director. He mentioned crisis response considerations during the training like the need for timeliness and the challenges presented achieving this because of impacts to infrastructure like bridges and airfields in the affected area.

"The National Defense Strategy's number one defense objective is defending the homeland from attack, which includes protecting our critical infrastructure and supporting civil authorities in response to catastrophic incidents," said Hall. "As such, we support U.S. Northern Command in that homeland defense mission, including the development of the partnerships we will need to be successful. During this training, we strengthened relationships with our interagency partners, including the National Guard, as we trained together to rapidly respond within a robust exercise scenario.”