New Systems Test Military, Civilian Communications During Exercise
By 1st Lt. Erika Yepsen, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
FAIRBANKS, Alaska, May. 15, 2007 Ardent Sentry/Northern Edge 2007, a two-week national-level exercise involving local, state and federal government agencies, is proving the capabilities of the Incident Command System.
A National Guardsmen from Nebraska radios in for support after his unit detained a suspected terrorist during an Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 07 scenario in North Pole, Alaska, on May 9. His radio is networked to the communications systems of other participating local, state, federal and private agencies due to an initiative called the Incident Command System. This cross-agency system improves coordinated response to emergencies such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Photo by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The system is designed to provide effective communication and organization between different emergency responders, which could include civilian authorities as well as military.
The Incident Command System is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Incident Management System, which is being implemented nationwide. It's a unified command-and-control system driven by a presidential directive that covers the Department of Defense and civilian federal government agencies, explained Air Force Maj. Darren Deroos, 3rd Wing chief of inspections and exercises.
"The Air Force took the National Incident Management System and customized it, which is how we came up with … the Air Force Incident Management System, which the Air Force implemented across the service in February," Deroos said.
The 3rd Wing has been using the Air Force Incident Management System and the Incident Command System since January 2006.
The Incident Command System is a combination of facilities, equipment, operators, procedures and communications designed to aid in domestic incident-management activities. It can be used for a broad spectrum of emergencies, according to FEMA's National Incident Management System Web site.
"It really clarifies lines of communication and who has command of what in an emergency," Deroos said. "This exercise is our biggest full-scale test of ICS including civilian counterparts."
The system is finding wide use during this year's Alaska Shield/Northern Edge exercise, which is specifically designed to test communication and streamline response efforts between government agencies at all levels. Throughout the exercise, military and civilian first responders work together as they react to crisis scenarios, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks or other emergency situations.
On May 8 and 9, military, civilian and federal authorities partnered to respond to two incidents: a simulated train collision involving hazardous materials and mass casualties here, and a simulated terrorist attack on the North Pole Refinery Complex, in nearby North Pole, Alaska.
During both incidents, emergency responders used ICS to coordinate their efforts.
"This exercise is the perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of AFIMS and ICS and the ability of the Air Force to integrate with its civilian counterparts during an emergency," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser, Alaska Command commander. "Alaska is uniquely equipped to put this system through its paces because the state is leading the country in implementing the National Incident Management System."
Civilian organizations are already finding ICS to be exceptional in its use, creating more effective communication and improving response efforts.
"The fire department and emergency medical service have been using the system for a long time, but it's new to law enforcement, and we needed this opportunity to train with it," said Brad Johnson, Fairbanks deputy police chief. "We want to be able to work a small or large scale incident with ICS."
In addition, the Alaska Railroad Corporation has been using the system for years, said Ernest Piper, the Alaska Railroad Corporation assistant vice president of operations.
"At first, people were skeptical about it, but now we have the smoothest ICS process in the state," said Piper, who participated in the May 8 train collision exercise. "We use it for everything. It's perfect because you can use it for almost any kind of short-term emergency management situation."
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Hudson, 3rd Wing Inspector General's superintendent of readiness and emergency management, echoed Piper's praise for the system.
"It's been a slow implementation, but I think it was the right thing to do," Hudson said. "It streamlined a process and made a better process for the Air Force that we were able to meld with our civilian counterparts."
While Elmendorf has been operating under the AFIMS and ICS systems since last year, the rest of the Air Force is scheduled to achieve initial capability by December and final capability by December 2009, according to the AFIMS Senior Leader Guide to Implementation and Sustainment.
(Air Force 1st Lt. Erika Yepsen is assigned to Joint Task Force Alaska Public Affairs.)