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Seminar Seeks to Streamline Disaster Relief

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

SPRINGFIELD, Va., May 5, 2006 – This week, the Marine Corps partnered with Joint Forces Command to host "Joint Urban Warrior 2006 Homeland Security/Homeland Defense," a seminar examining what happens when the military must support civil authorities in response to a major domestic natural disaster.

"Getting to know your counterpart ahead of time in exercises like this is so important," one official said, speaking on background. "If the first time I meet you, it's 3 a.m. and we've got our helmets on and the crap is hitting the fan, we're not going to work too great together because the stressors are already up."

The exercise used computer models to simulate a Category 4 hurricane traveling up the Potomac River tidal basin into Washington, D.C., destroying large swaths of Virginia, Maryland, and the nation's capital.

Over 100 participants attended the wargaming seminar, representing not only the Defense Department and experienced local first responders, but also telephone companies and other infrastructure providers. One Defense Department official said a wide variety of opinions here made things feel real, "since that's how it'll really be in a disaster like this, and we'll have to work together."

Another official said a hurricane like this one would significantly damage military readiness, so event planners added a twist: Following on the hurricane's heels, they simulated a terrorist incident involving a chlorine gas spill on a rail line in nearby Lorton, Va. They said terrorists might try to capitalize on a time of national trauma at the moment first responders are stretched to their limits.

Frank Jordan, director of the Marine Corps warfighting lab's wargaming division, said this seminar was part of an annual effort to study the effects of "complex urban operations."

This seminar was the second of two parallel efforts held this year that looked at urban issues. The first, "Joint Urban Warfare 2006 Small Wars," was held in Potomac, Md., in April.

Jordan said the group studied three simultaneous operations in what he called the "Three Block War." They include combat, stability and support, and humanitarian relief operations.

The seminar was broken down into several "vignettes," focusing on small parts of the bigger disaster. For each vignette, officials were asked to provide the top five problems they would need to respond to, the top five priorities during their response, and five innovative approaches that would make responding more safe and efficient.

Officials said the group's findings will be distributed to some government agencies as compact disks with articles, video files and other media to best illustrate the group's recommendations.

Retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson said he expects to make several recommendations based on what he saw at this event. For instance, he said, Defense Department commands should facilitate partnerships between communities in western Virginia and those in the Potomac tidewater area to create a host-community situation. That way, if a hurricane evacuation must be done, people will have a place to go that is already prepared with supplies and shelter.

Other recommendations lend themselves to modeling and computer simulation. Data from 2005's devastating hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be used to help evacuation planners study how people will react to government agencies setting up different evacuation routes and explore new ideas on how best to distribute fuel and other supplies to evacuees, he said.

The information gathered at the seminar will be used to plan for much more than a natural disaster here, Jordan said. Near-term planning is a big concern for the Marine Corps, and his researchers are constantly looking for good ideas to put into practice now for forces on the ground in conflicts and humanitarian aid situations around the world.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Rozenkranz, JFCOM's military lead for the seminar, said he agreed that perhaps the best lesson coming out of the seminar is learning ways to plan from new perspectives. "Military guys, we write plans and we exercise the plan," he said.

But, Rozenkranz said, his focus is the future. JFCOM is using this seminar and others like it to look ahead to the technologies and procedures that the nation will need in 2015.

"These kinds of events provide that seed, if you will, for experimentation," he said. "We've taken the need for battlespace awareness, persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance -- those ideas that have been kind of talked about in recurring themes kind of bubble to the top."

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Related Sites:
U.S. Joint Forces Command
Marine Corps Warfighting Lab
Small Wars Center of Excellence

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