Fort Drum's annual full-scale exercise Aug. 11-12 tested the emergency response capabilities of organizations and units across the installation, as well as the ability to communicate and work with off-post agencies during a crisis. The exercise centered on a downed aircraft scenario with multiple casualties. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum officials test emergency response capabilities with downed aircraft scenario
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 12, 2021) – It was a harrowing scene with multiple injured Soldiers sprawled on the ground, calling for help and groaning in pain. Nearby, smoke billowed from a downed aircraft.
Then, vehicle after vehicle arrived at the incident site with dozens of military police, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and other first responders prepared to assess, treat and evacuate casualties.
Fort Drum’s annual full-scale exercise, Aug. 11-12, tested the emergency response capabilities of dozens of directorates, organizations and units across post, and their ability to work together during a crisis.
“We have an exercise every year so that we are prepared in the event that an emergency happens,” said Rich Hughes, Fort Drum emergency manager. “This allows us to assess specific response capabilities, as well as ensure we can take care of the Soldiers, family members, civilians and the entire installation community in the aftermath of a disaster.”
Previous iterations of the exercise included a railhead accident, an active shooter incident and an extreme winter weather emergency.
Spc. Bailey Vaughn, with 511th Military Police Company, 91st MP Battalion, was among the initial group of first responders with the Fort Drum Directorate of Emergency Services at the incident site.
“Basically, everything was in a state of disarray when we showed up,” he said. “So, the first thing we wanted to do was secure the scene and make sure that only authorized personnel were coming in and out.”
Vaughn said that once fire and emergency personnel arrived to treat and evacuate casualties, the military police provided additional assistance.
“We helped any way we could, anywhere they needed us,” he said. “There’s always something you could be doing to help in an emergency.”
During the exercise, John Simard, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security’s Protection Branch chief, patrolled the scene as an observer/controller.
“The role of the observer/controller is twofold,” he said. “They act as an observer to make sure the exercise is flowing correctly and being executed correctly. In doing that, we are looking for any safety issues that may arise, so we can stop the exercise before anyone gets hurt. Lastly, we’re evaluating. We take notes about what everyone is doing, and then later on that all makes it to the after-action review.”
Simard said that the people who serve in that capacity are the lynchpin of the full-scale exercise.
“We select subject-matter experts from each of the specialties to be an observer/controller,” he said. “They’re the experts in their field, so they can better evaluate what is happening.”
The exercise also tests the post’s proficiency in using the WebEOC – an Internet-based crisis information management system that provides real-time information during an incident.
Hughes said that the system connects the responders at the incident site with personnel at the emergency operations center who are supporting that response, as well as other agencies involved.
“It allows everyone to share information instantly, in real time, and keep everyone on the same page during an incident,” Hughes said.
“Like any other skill, it’s perishable if you don’t use it,” he added. “But I can say in the past three years alone we have made leaps and bounds in the capabilities of that system. The improvements we’ve made now allow us to do mission command within that common operating picture a lot more efficiently than before.”
Among the off-post organizations participating in the exercise were South Jefferson Rescue Squad, Thousand Islands Emergency Medical Services, Carthage Area Rescue Squad and Indian River Ambulance Service.
“The North Country is very unique because we are a mutually supporting environment for emergency services,” Hughes said. “Since we work with them during real-world emergencies, we want to make sure we train with them as well.”