Sgt. 1st Class Matt Scotten
Public Affairs, Camp Atterbury, Ind.
In the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster, first responders from a variety of locations, soldiers, law enforcement and other federal, state and local agencies, arrive on scene, where they participate in rescue and recovery operations.
Coordinating these groups can be a challenge – each may have different communications gear, equipment, command structure and even special jargon and acronyms.
U.S. Army North, U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Force Land Component command hosted exercise Vibrant Response across southern Indiana and Kentucky designed to coordinate a rapid and efficient disaster response – specifically focusing on a nuclear explosion scenario in the Midwest.
About 75 units participated in this exercise, and the number of troops that will be trained is about 8,000, according to Clark Wigley, joint exercise planer for U.S. Army North.
"We learn to work together by sitting down and talking through the problem sets that arise and solving the issues that are in front of us," he said.
This year’s Vibrant Response is the 13th iteration of this exercise, and it has grown exponentially over the years, leaders said.
"We started off in kind of a crawl phase, then we walked and now we are running," Wigley said.
Adding, "We started off with training somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 troops to training almost 10,000 which includes a growing number of federal agencies."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, participated this year with a regional incident management team along with a national incident management team lead by Justo Hernandez.
"We have been working with the Army for years now, in preparing for any potential catastrophic event," Hernandez said.
"FEMA is a coordinating agency, in that we lead and direct various government entities in disaster situations, and the Army is one of the biggest resources that we have, so this benefits us because we can learn about the new units, the new tactics and the new teams that the Army may have, and once we learn about those capabilities, we can plan and implement those things downrange in the future," he added.
Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., U.S. Army, commander of U.S. Northern Command, visited Indiana Aug. 1, to see first-hand how the exercise was going.
Jacoby was impressed with not only the training facilities at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck, but also with the surrounding community support for the exercise.
"When you come to a training venue like this and you see all the contextual challenges that are portrayed here, the first thing that occurs to you is that this is a first-class operation," Jacoby said.
Adding, "But as everyone who has ever been at a catastrophic incident knows, it is all the distractions and the sights and sounds of an event that really challenge what may be simple individual tasks and makes them very difficult. This is truly a unique venue and all of the surrounding noise and sights and smells are really an important part of it."
He noted, "This is way more than just Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck. It is an entire community involvement across the southern half of the state of Indiana, and if you don’t have community buy-in, you can’t do something like this. I think that this is really a unique strength of America; the relationship between first-responders at the local level, the state, the Department of Defense, and then a community that really allows us to practice and hone our skills."
At Muscatatuck, units took advantage of the available urban training areas to stage scenarios where responders had to search rubble and damaged structures for survivors and then rescue and treat them, to include treating them for exposure to nuclear radiation.
Units like the Marine Corps’ Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force, or CBIRF, was treating simulated survivors of one area of the compound while the Army’s 21st Chemical Company conducted similar operations only blocks away, giving the units the opportunity to learn from each other and expand upon their skills.
"We tried to up the ante this year compared to last year’s Vibrant Response," Cpl. Michael Gannon, with the CBIRF, said.
Adding, "We have a lot more medical stabilization and utilization of the advanced emergency medical technician live tissue training that a lot of our extract marines have been using. Not only are we conducting downrange operations, but we are also conducting support of the medical side of things."
Vibrant Response units on Camp Atterbury focused largely on more advanced hospital operations.
Units such as the Air Force 79th Medical Group built field expedient hospitals to care for simulated casualties with wounds and injuries that were beyond the capabilities of first responders.
Patients were flown in regularly the Army’s 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, Fort Knox, Ky., allowing hospital airmen to practice not only caring for patient but integrating with helicopter medical evacuation operations.
All operations were orchestrated by a joint command element that comprised of Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and various civilian personnel from several agencies as well as government contracted private companies so that not only would personnel on the ground get to practice their skills, but the personnel at the operational level would have the opportunity to work together to organize a joint effort, exactly like they would have to do in a real disaster situation.
The exercise, which started in late July, continued until Aug. 13, with the bulk of operations occurring at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck.