Several state and federal agencies are coming together this week across Nevada and California to conduct a large scale exercise to test emergency response capabilities.
The exercise, titled Vigilant Guard, is a program that provides training for National Guard personnel, Department of Emergency Management and civilian first responders to practice for a large scale natural disaster. Throughout the week, trainees will be focused on a 7.2 earthquake that hits Las Vegas and a second 7.8 earthquake that hits Los Angeles. A simulation was conducted in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where rescuers actually had to work in “destroyed” infrastructures, and command units in Carson City had to organize and figure out how and where they could allocate resources to help. The simulation included 400 fatalities, thousands of injuries, damaged infrastructures, collapsed buildings and hazardous material sites.
“(The National Guard doesn’t) fix problems, we will assist with relief,” said Col. Cory Shulz, director of joint operations for the National Guard. “Military forces are very expensive so we try to assist with civilian law enforcement.”
Though the exercise earthquakes didn’t happen around Carson City, the National Guard soldiers here need to be ready to assess and provide all necessary details, action plans and resources as necessary and as quickly as possible to help the soldiers in the disaster areas.
“It is difficult because you want to be there in the action,” Shulz said. “I’m a soldier so I want to be helping but it is our job to provide assessments.”
The National Guard assistance isn’t automatic in a disaster, they will get involved in a disaster after the county and state government ask for assistance.
“It works from the county to the state to us so if they can’t support (civilians) we try to help,” Shulz said.
The purpose is to coordinate responses so if a similar disaster were to occur, the agencies have the necessary communications established and a basic plan established in order to more quickly and efficiently provide assistance. It also allows the agencies to address possible faults in their plans before a disaster were to occur.
“What we want to do is work through the process and fiction points,” Shulz said.
As a part of the simulation, the National Guard tried to assess different problems, including allocating and providing fuel to first responders, civilian migration and providing up to date damage assessment for all agencies.
The program tries to keep the exercise as realistic as possible, even creating fake social media from Twitter and Facebook to provide additional information to the soldiers to further help them build an effective plan.
“Social media is huge to see what is going on, on the ground and we can use them to leverage faster,” Shulz said.
Nearly 800 people on the military side from both California and Nevada National Guards and 20 civilian agencies were involved in the exercise to establish that communication and mutual tactics prior to an actual incident. Agencies such as Clark County, Las Vegas Fire Department, Metro Police Department and more were involved in the training so the Guard could establish connections and be able to address and assess the first responder’s capacity levels for an incident.
The Division of Emergency Management also was involved in the exercise, in order to organize state agencies such as Public Works, transportation, public information officers and more to provide similar assistance in a crisis.
“We have covered a lot of issues so far: water, energy and debris removal issues and more,” said Caleb Cage, chief of the Division of Emergency Management. “We’ve got the whole array so far.”
The Division of Emergency Management focuses on four main sections: planning, operations, logistics and financial with 16 emergency support functions such as Public Works, transportation, state IT, state purchasing and public information officers.
Cage said they built the Vigilant Guard program out of other programs and from real life disasters all over the world.
“This is an exceptional training opportunity for us and we are extraordinarily grateful with the National Guard to let us exercise with them,” Cage said. “...The saying in the Emergency Management world is that we don’t want to be exchanging business cards on scene. This allows us to meet our counterparts who may not always be involved.”