Military News

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Military aids Homer out of a "Rock and a Hard Place"

by Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier
Alaskan Command Public Affairs

3/24/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Alaskan Command and U.S. Army Alaska, along with other federal and state entities, participated in Exercise Rock and a Hard Place in Homer, Alaska, March 19 through 22.

Exercise Rock and a Hard Place was a scenario where state and federal resources responded to assist the community of Homer and the Kenai Borough following a significant simulated mudslide that damaged the South Peninsula Hospital in Homer and severed road and communications lines, said Army Lt. Col. William Kays, Alaskan Command medical operations and plans director. The mass casualty-causing event required the rapid medical response of the state's Health and Social Services emergency response capabilities and the movement of patients from the damaged hospital to the Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska.

The state's Department of Health and Social Services, through partnership with Alaskan Command, provided an opportunity for Title 10 (active-duty Department of Defense) resources to participate in this hospital drill, Kays said.

When Title 10 forces provide assistance in natural disaster crisis such as this, it is called defense support of civil authorities (DSCA).

"DSCA remains an important ALCOM mission, whereas active-duty forces could be requested by the state to prevent the loss of life, mitigate suffering and mitigate the loss of property. "This drill allowed us to work with local and state responders, improve our interoperability and exercise an element of the federal Alaska disaster response playbook; specifically, the patient movement courses of action on the Kenai Peninsula," Kays explained.

U.S. Army Alaska provided patient movement DSCA assistance with two medevac Black Hawk helicopters operated by crews from C Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment who are part of the USARAK Aviation Task Force based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

"The MEDEVAC aircraft deployed and became [tactical control] to the Alaska Army Guard Aviation Task Force during the exercise," Kays said. "Following years of back-to-back deployments, the involvement of Title 10 MEDEVAC aircraft in support of response efforts in Alaska will renew collaborative relationships."

Alaskan Command provided an emergency response vehicle for DSCA support during the exercise, said Tim Woodall, ALCOM command, control, communications, and computer systems, joint frequency management division chief, DoD area frequency coordinator/joint frequency management office Alaska, and expeditionary communications. The ERV provides initial 72-hour emergency communications, including land mobile radio, phone and Internet. For this exercise, those services were provided to the emergency operations center, triage and state aeromedical staging facility. The ERV was flown in a C-17 aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Homer, Alaska, along with the ERV operators--Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Jennings Jr. and Army Staff Sgt. Lacey Steward.

"Our involvement in the exercise was a success," said Steward, ALCOM command, control, communications, and computer systems, deployable communications NCO in charge.  "Despite never setting up our equipment before in Homer, we were able to set the Rapid Response Kit up, which provided connectivity for phones and wireless data. We had 15 phones in the EOC and one in the triage, as well as wireless Internet to both locations. This gateway provided the ability to track in- and out-bound patients. In a disaster scenario, the ERV ensures information technology services to improve disaster response."

"The ERV efforts met the requirements of the customer," said Jennings, ALCOM command, control, communications, and computer systems plans and future operations superintendent. "We were able to successfully demonstrate the air worthiness of the ERV. We identified a generator limiting factor and identified several process improvements that will enhance our efficiency and effectiveness when called upon. It's very important to exercise our capabilities with our partners and seeing that team come together and be successful increases confidence with or partners and the community."

"The state conducts medical response exercises a few times annually, but many do not lend to a Title 10 response," Kays added. "This exact scenario would not likely require a Title 10 immediate response, but the exercise provided an opportunity for us to cross-train with our partners, improve interoperability, and validate elements of the federal and state disaster response playbook. ALCOM is committed to continued collaboration with the state and will continue to look for opportunities to train with our partners."

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