By M. Queiser
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri Guardsmen support first responders for state emergencies and disasters, and being prepared for a potential New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquake will culminate in a statewide training exercise November 3-9.
Soldiers and Airmen from across the state in every brigade, battalion and unit will participate in this year's Vigilant Guard exercise.
In the scenario, much like 200 years ago, an intense earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone produces significant damage to eastern Missouri counties. The initial earthquake and anticipated aftershocks would be devastating to the rural areas of southeast Missouri. It would lose its intensity as it moves north along the Mississippi River, and to the west towards central Missouri. An increase in damage to man-made structures such as large buildings and bridges nearer the St. Louis area can be anticipated as well as damages in other more densely populated areas towards the center of the state.
Local and state response capabilities are overwhelmed and need help.
The challenge of such a devastating event range from communication and power outages, transportation and structural damages, medical care, lack of food and water supplies, and possible HAZMAT and civil disorder issues.
The purpose of the Vigilant Guard exercise is to provide State National Guard Headquarters and supporting units an opportunity to improve cooperation and operational relationships with their civilian, federal and military partners.
"It'll test and improve the Missouri National Guard's readiness if and when a disaster happens," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Timothy Forney, project officer for Missouri's Vigilant Guard.
The one-week exercise will bring together all of the Missouri National Guard's capabilities as well as Guardsmen from Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, New York, Nebraska, Colorado and Puerto Rico.
Maj. Michael Tagliofierro, Homeland Response Planner for the New York National Guard, said they are bringing almost 400 Soldiers and Airmen and are looking forward to the upcoming training and working with Missouri.
"This exercise gives us an idea and appreciation for the process of moving our entire HRF team and some of our equipment by air," said Tagliofierro.
This will be the first time the team, which is a combination of New York and New Jersey assets, will participate in an out of state exercise, said Tagliofierro.
The New York HRF will command and control operations at an urban search and rescue site in Columbia with Missouri and Puerto Rico's HRF teams. The teams will conduct lifting, hauling and extraction operations as well as decontamination and medical assistance.
They will also train their command to coordinate multiple chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear task forces over multiple days of training, said Tagliofierro.
"We'll be relieving and replacing the tasks forces," said Tagliofierro. "It's a reality in a disaster."
Working with multiple states improves the Guard's efficiency, enhances the Missouri National Guard's capabilities, and brings aid and relief faster to the state.
"Its good training for any unit to move its assets from one location to another," said Forney. "It's also good for the home state, in this case Missouri, to bring in and train with other states and train to effectively manage these new supporting units - we're both benefitting."
Effectively managing the new units, coordinating their capabilities, supporting their Guardsmen and incorporating them into Missouri is another aspect of this year's Vigilant Guard exercise.
"This training is going to give us the opportunity to exercise and test our reception, stage, onward movement and integration plans and our logistical support areas," said Maj. Peter McCann, brigade plans officer for the 110th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Kansas City, Mo.
The process for accepting units and Soldier from other states into our state need to be fluid, said McCann, who will oversee logistical support.
Soldiers of the 110th will utilize Camp Crowder in Neosho, Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph and Fort Leonard Wood to validate nearly 800 personnel and their equipment and capabilities from six states during this year's exercise,
The training will test the 110th's capability to collect all the information from the reception areas, coordinate that information with Missouri's headquarters, and supporting the visiting unit when their assigned a mission.
"This drills us from brigade level down to our unit level - from the big picture to the individual unit training to manage each operation," said McCann.
Missouri National Guard's operations across the state during Vigilant Guard will also include the 7th Civil Support Team conducting air and water monitoring, radiation surveys and identifying decontamination solutions in St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City. The 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, 1107th Aviation Group, 131st Bomb Wing and the 139th Airlift Wing will provide air support throughout the state and command and control operations. The 70th Troop Command will provide command and control operations, Homeland Response Force capabilities and support to civilian emergency operations centers. The 35th Engineer Brigade will command and control a tactical operation center at Wappapello Training Site - providing situational awareness, process critical information and direct and execute operations in a location that would be closest to the potentially most damaged areas.
Soldiers of the 35th Engineer Brigade will also conduct training for overcoming the infrastructure damage and hazards, including providing temporary bridges for responder movement and repair lines of supply at the Macon Training Site, and clearing and construction operation to open and repair roads in Festus, Mo.
Along with military operations and training, Vigilant Guard will include many civilian first responders and assets.
"The beauty of the Vigilant Guard exercise is it allows civilian responders to work side by side with the Missouri National Guard," said Forney.
Missouri's state and local agencies planning to participate include: SEMA; Multiagency Coordination Centers in Jefferson City, Hannibal and Sikeston; the Urban Search & Rescue Task Force; the Disaster Medical Assistance Team; the Incident Support Team; the Department of Natural Resources; Hannibal Regional Hospital; Moberly Regional Medical Center; Northeast Regional Medical Center ICL Products; Science and Technology University in Rolla; the Columbia Fire Department, the Boone County Fire Protection District; and emergency operation centers in counties throughout Missouri.
Throughout the week-long exercise U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau will observe each venue and overall operations, even injecting new scenarios and potential events to test Missouri's response. Requests can range from calls for assistance to conduct route clearance, clear a collapsed building, requests for aerial photos of a damaged area, to the discovery of a chemical hazard or aftershocks.
The data collected from observations will be used so Missouri can self-evaluate, said Forney.
"We can refine our plans and processes so that if any event happened we could respond even better," he said.
The final planning conference this month will review the exercise's timeline of events, verify military and civilian participants and validate the training objectives.
Missouri has already done a great deal of training for an event of this nature, including the addition of homeland defense training at the unit level, weekend drills and command post exercises for the past several years. As well as state emergencies, including five in 2011: the northwest Missouri blizzard, lower Mississippi River floods, the St. Louis tornado response, the Joplin tornado response, and the northwest and central Missouri River floods.
Vigilant Guard will be one more step to achieving a higher level of disaster readiness, said Forney.
"Everyone seems to be very excited to get the exercise started," said Forney.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/