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Drill tests first responders

Annual JBLM force protection exercise helps put installation emergency response system to the test

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:11PM December 20th, 2012
Drill tests first responders

Julie Smith/Northwest Guardian

Members from the 627th Security Forces Squadron and JBLM Dept. of Emergency Services survey the area near a flightline where a vehicle-born improvised explosive device was found during a force protection security exercise at the installation Dec. 11.

The van was loaded with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, and whoever had parked it in front of a hangar near McChord Field’s flightline had fled just minutes before authorities arrived.

Enter the 627th Civil Engineering Squadron Explosive Ordnance Device Flight, just one of many units that were tested during a force protection exercise Dec. 12 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The scenario was one of several during the day that comprised the installation’s annual force protection requirement overseen by the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

According to Tech. Sgt. Heidi Leon, 627th Civil Engineering Squadron EOD flight chief, the unit’s task was to coordinate a response and safely diffuse the device while mitigating damage to lives and property.

“We’re here to provide an EOD emergency response for a controlled movement area,” Leon said. The 627th Security Forces Unit responded quickly to the VBIED with their EOD response truck, which deployed an F6-A robot to investigate the explosive device.

Leon said the 627th Civil Engineering Squadron EOD Flight responds to IEDs frequently on the ground in Afghanistan, but when they’re not deployed, the unit

also conducts weekly practical training exercises to sharpen their response to homeland security threats. “We deploy a lot so we’re really good at responding to IEDs, but we have to work extra hard to keep peacetime missions forward in our mind, too,” Leon said.

The VBIED simulation also included representatives from installation agencies like resource management, planning, operations, law enforcement, logistics and public works, who gathered at the Emergency Operations Center on Lewis Main once the exercise was underway.

Officials convened at the EOC to track information and activity across the installation. They were joined by senior leaders from I Corps and the 62nd Airlift Wing, there to determine impacts to their organizations and offer support.

The multifaceted annual exercise required officials to change force protection conditions for JBLM, limit access to gates and buildings and activate units in support of securing the installation. The event included a simulated active shooter scenario and hostage situation as well.

Force protection exercises have changed because of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Ed Wood, joint base emergency manager. The difference is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security are now involved, Wood said.

“Over time, we exercise all possible hazards,” he said.

Many of those involved knew the exercise would happen, but weren’t sure of the details so the response could be as genuine as possible.

“These kind of events can happen anywhere, anytime and we need to be ready,” Wood said.