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Force protection exercise: Fort Rucker teams with community responders

Soldiers stand guard blocking the road on Ruf Avenue in front of the Combat Readiness/Safety Center where a simulated improvised explosive device detonated during a force protection exercise designed to test the installation’s readiness Aug. 27. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Soldiers stand guard blocking the road on Ruf Avenue in front of the Combat Readiness/Safety Center where a simulated improvised explosive device detonated during a force protection exercise designed to test the installation’s readiness Aug. 27. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, briefs a news crew on the simulated events that occurred during a mock press conference at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum after a force protection exercise designed to test the installation’s readiness Aug. 27. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, briefs a news crew on the simulated events that occurred during a mock press conference at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum after a force protection exercise designed to test the installation’s readiness Aug. 27. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: September 4, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 4, 2014) -- The familiar howl of the giant voice rang out Aug. 27, alerting the installation of the post-wide exercise that had first responders scrambling to think on their feet.

In conjunction with Antiterrorism Awareness Month, Fort Rucker held its annual force protection exercise, during which the installation teamed up with outside agencies to make sure the post is ready for emergency situations, according to Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander.

This year’s simulated emergency involved an improvised explosive device that was set to detonate at some point on the installation, said Michael Whittaker, installation antiterrorism officer.

“During the scenario, there was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that damaged five structures next to the Directorate of Public Safety,” he said. “Because of the explosion and damaged structures, the first responders and emergency personnel couldn’t just go in and pick up people because the buildings were collapsed.”

Whittaker said the scenario was designed to test the installation’s response in the event an attack affected the post’s first responders and law enforcement officials.

“This is really a test of not only how we work together for incident command, but how our security and fire folks work when it relates to them,” added McRae.

Throughout the exercise, the scenarios are treated as if they are real-life events, meaning that any simulated casualties are tended to the way they would be in an actual emergency.

“The responders came in and took the time to do everything correctly,” said the antiterrorism officer. “People were put in ambulances, physically carried, checked in and (processed) as if it were a real-life event.”

In addition to the explosion, there were three diversionary tactics put into play to spread the emergency responders throughout the installation, which is something that Whittaker said could happen in an actual situation.

The Fort Rucker agencies and organizations that the exercise put to work included: the Directorate of Public Safety; the Directorate of Public Works;  Lyster Army Health Clinic; 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment Air Ambulance Detachment “Flatiron;” the Logistics Readiness Center, Directorate of Human Resources and more.

Fort Rucker’s agencies weren’t alone when it came to dealing with the simulated crisis. Local municipalities and agencies, including police departments from surrounding communities and emergency medical service responders from local hospitals all teamed with the Army to exercise their responses. The Houston County Red Cross also launched its food vehicle and fed 150 people to test its readiness and responsiveness.

“We have a fantastic relationship with all of our local municipalities, and working through emergency plans like this we can see where there are friction points, not between people, but on processes – it allows us to see where we can do better,” said McRae. “We couldn’t ask for better support from our local cities, and so when we discover those things, we work through them so that we can solve them if a real crisis occurs.”

Putting on an exercise of this magnitude is an undertaking on a massive scale and doesn’t come without its challenges, said the garrison commander.

“The biggest challenge is that we’re trying to do a notional exercise during the middle of a regular, required workday,” he said. “We still have Aviation training that still needs to occur, so when we’re trying to do these things, we’re trying to simulate as much as possible all while still trying to go about the daily business that has to occur.”

In the event of an actual crisis, however, normal business operations would come to a standstill and the installation would most likely be shut down to react to the situation, he added.

Despite the hiccups in the regular workday, these exercises are a necessity and part of a national strategy to make sure the Army is prepared, said McRae.

Following the days of the simulated emergency, the work wasn’t over for the installation.

As the event came to completion, officials went into a tabletop exercise, during which assessments are made on the initial after-action reviews.

“We go in and look at what we did and give immediate feedback on what could have been done better,” said the garrison commander. “Following that, we’ll go into a more formalized piece, which will span the next few weeks as we go through all of the organizations that were involved in the exercise.”

McRae said that each organization that played a part will have the opportunity to provide feedback and give input on what might have been done wrong or what can be improved.

“We look at every eye that was out there as a valid viewpoint,” he said. “If we didn’t, we might be losing that valuable key that might tell us how to do something better.”

Not only does the installation evaluate itself, but there were outside evaluators to provide a more unbiased point of view.

“We’ve got evaluators who were brought in from other installations to watch us, grade us and tell us how we’re doing so that we can get some good feedback,” said McRae. “The worst thing you want to do is do something and not do it well, then high-five yourselves thinking you’ve done a great job when you’ve made some really critical errors.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/133139/

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