Testing Emergency Response

Naval Air Station Fallon took part in the annual exercise Solid Curtain-Citadel Shield last week by holding an anti-terrorism and force-protection exercise.

The annual exercise, held at all Navy installations across the globe, is meant to test commands and area emergency responders’ reactions to complex and multi-faceted scenarios.

Throughout the morning, emergency responders from NAS Fallon’s Security Department, Federal Fire Department, Search and Rescue and Emergency Management as well as community partners from the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office and CareFlight were dealt a series of realistic scenarios to work through. Many of the victims were role played by drama students from the Churchill County High School.

The exercise started with an active shooter entering classrooms and progressed into a suicide bomber who attacked an evacuation point. As emergency responders dealt with these two events the incident command post came under sniper fire.

This evolution that appears overwhelming in complexity was designed to test emergency managers and responders to their maximum extent.

“Our military philosophy towards these exercises is to exercise to a point of failure,” said Cmdr. Eugene Woodruff, Executive Officer of Naval Air Station Fallon. “When we do this, we can see where we failed in our responses and put processes and resources in place so that if that scenario ever came to reality, or even a lesser scenario, we know whether we can handle that level of complexity.”

Utilizing knowledge from unfortunate incidents like the Washington Navy Yard shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing have helped training organizers to devise useful scenarios that assist in building working relationships between all emergency responders.

“Well there is that maxim ‘always expect the unexpected’ and that is really our philosophy when designing our response scenarios,” said Woodruff. “Today we came up with a scenario that was more complex than what we saw at the Washington Navy yard. All our responses were improved over what we saw at the Navy Yard because we were able to learn from both their successes and mistakes.”

Judging the success of the drills is not entirely based on how easily the situation was contained but more about finding ways to improve responses even if they appeared perfect.

“If things go smoothly, we sometimes forget why they went smoothly.” said Woodruff. “We had some hiccups. We had some points that uncovered some future training requirements and we saw that it is easy to get overwhelmed in this type of scenario where not only are you trying to respond to the scenario but you are also being targeted by a very complex and coordinated adversary. That is a success.”

Working side by side, all emergency responders, whether military, civilian, or city and county personnel managed to work through the multitude of problems to eventually achieve their goals and resolve the issues.

Woodruff also stated, “What we learned at the Washington Navy Yard was that when we have multiple agencies responding as we’ve seen today, that coordination needs to be rehearsed ahead of time so that when we come to a scene of an actual incident we are not exchanging business cards and talking about how we are going to approach that disaster. We actually rehearsed it ahead of time.”

“As with any drills,” said Chris Pierce, NAS Training Officer. “We had some communication issues, as well as coordination issues. We always gather any and all feedback during the after-action briefings and work with all agencies to identify fixes and streamline the emergency management process.”

Pierce also stated that without the assistance of all the participants, the exercises would not have been such a success.


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