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Alaska Shield

Exercise helps test readiness for quake

Participants recreate ‘64 Alaska earthquake

Published: 02:17PM April 10th, 2014

To commemorate a 1964 earthquake that rattled its inhabitants, Alaska decided to recreate it 50 years later in exercise form, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord was there to help.

The base’s participation was part of the National Preparedness System’s capstone exercise, a biennial event that brings together federal agencies, private companies and other partners to test just how ready they are for a major disaster. The 12-day exercise was broadened and refined after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Colonel Steven Fletcher, chief of staff of the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, said the capstone used Exercise Alaska Shield as the basis for the nationwide response test. Participating units from JBLM included I Corps, 593rd ESC, Madigan Army Medical Center and Soldiers from several other units tasked to help.

Though the quake simulation started March 27, the 593rd ESC’s preparations began in January, when it transported its mobile command post from JBLM to Hawaii. Fletcher said the CP was tested by moving it through three environments — temperate/wet, hot/humid and cold/dry.

The 593rd ESC’s task for Alaska Shield was first to assess the situation after the quake and set up its command post to start organizing the joint task force’s Army response to the simulated devastation, Fletcher said. That includes monitoring supplies, coordinating rescues and evacuations, and then starting to process the logistics train.

“There’s going to be a lot of relief supplies coming in, so our follow-on would be to ensure that the materials that are coming in are prioritized, and we’re not bringing in something we don’t need right away,” Fletcher said.

The post and Soldiers had to reach operational capability within 24 hours.

Then came the problem of the Port of Anchorage, which in simulation was damaged and unusable. Fletcher said the Joint Task Force’s logistical arm brought in equipment and units that actually can build a port on the water, instead of attaching it to land. The 593rd ESC was involved in that effort too.

As supplies came in, the exercise simulated casualties going out. McChord Field and its Troop Holding Area became the first mainland response point for evacuating those casualties, said Lt. Col. Michael Moyle, Madigan's National Disaster Medical System coordinator.

“(Alaska) has no real critical capabilities,” Moyle said. “Anybody that they have that’s a critical patient, they get medivac’d right off the bat to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.”

In simulation, Alaska’s hospitals quickly are overwhelmed by the surge of patients, Moyle said. The overall exercise called for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command to transport stable patients out of Alaska and down to participating hospitals in Washington.

Alaska’s hospitals then have more room to treat surge patients who are too unstable to move.

Madigan's medical personnel and its tasked litter-bearers moved out in teams to meet a C-130J Hercules from the Texas Air National Guard and its medical team from North Carolina’s Pope Field. Air Force and Army personnel smoothly unloaded the plane of patients, assessed their status and brought them into the holding area.

After Madigan staff triaged the patients and entered them in a tracking system, stable ones quickly were moved by civilian transport to regional hospitals participating in the exercise.

Captain Rebecca Lee, an ICU nurse, never had been part of such a big exercise, let alone with so many other agencies, including U.S. Public Health Command and the Northwest Healthcare Response Network.

“I like being able to work with the other forces, especially the Air Force,” Lee said. “When we’re deployed, we just work so closely with the Air Force. I love to be able to do that over here, and it kind of refreshes you on the practices.”

Madigan and the civilian hospitals held their own subexercises to recertify joint-operating agreements and other response qualifications.

The real-life catastrophe near Oso, Wash., also weighed heavy in the minds of everyone, including Capt. Tracy Minke, an Air Force nurse from Pope Field.

“Being here with the mudslide, anything can happen,” she said.

For Fletcher, it’s that “anything” that requires all the training and interagency cooperation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, and National Guard and reserve units from as far away as Fort Story, Va., all came to Alaska and other states to participate and prepare for real-life disaster response operations.

“If you’re training correctly,” Fletcher said, “you’re training to be ready.”