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Homeland Defense Exercise Wraps Up in Alaska

By Capt. Amy Hansen, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska, Aug. 23, 2005 – A massive homeland defense exercise in Alaska wrapped up Aug. 19 after five days of simulated natural disasters and terrorist events, including earthquakes, aircraft crashes and anthrax attacks in 21 communities statewide.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Fire and rescue teams from Kulis Air National Guard Station, Alaska, conduct a mass casualty drill with a simulated aircraft crash at Anchorage International Airport Aug. 17 during Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05 allowed local, state and federal agencies to respond effectively to a wide range of emergencies.

Nearly 5,000 people from the local, state and federal government -- the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Department of Defense, Alaska Army National Guard and Air National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI -- took part in the exercise.

One of the last scenarios of the exercise, a simulated DC-10 airplane crash at Anchorage's Kincaid Park Aug. 18, was a sort of grand finale. More than 100 "victims," bedecked in fake blood and simulating injuries, presented a triage challenge to more than 50 emergency responders.

"People can walk away from this exercise, after seeing what happened at that grand finale event, with a lot of confidence that years of preparation, practice and tabletop exercises have resulted in a terrific team that is ready to respond to these kinds of disasters," said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Jacoby, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Alaska.

"It's been terrific to reinforce our relationships with state and local officials," Jacoby said. "It's been a tremendous learning event for the staff and their processes."

JTF-AK coordinates the land and air defense of Alaska, as well defense support to civil authorities when an emergency exceeds the response capabilities of local, state and other federal agencies, like in this exercise. It is made up of representatives from the Air Force, Army and Navy, and reports to U.S. Northern Command.

The joint task force's exercise director, Air Force Col. Steven Hatter, agreed that Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05 was an interagency success.

"Before the exercise, we went through a deliberative planning process with more than 30 federal, state and local agencies to develop training objectives, and then we built the exercise scenario based on those objectives," he said. "We are very pleased we were able to meet those objectives and were able to communicate, integrate and synchronize activities across the state."

"I think overall, it went well," agreed David Kang, emergency program manager for training and exercises for the state government. "We met all our objectives, and we also generated areas for improvement. In those aspects, it was a tremendous success."

In an exercise of this size, a team of people, commonly referred to as the white team, plans a detailed schedule of exercise scenarios that are designed to challenge participants, who are known as blue players. A major component of the white team for Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05 was the Joint Exercise Control Group, which managed all the exercise inputs, provided simulated terrorists, produced simulated media reports, and otherwise challenged the blue team to react to situations ranging from damaged local infrastructure to major security threats.

"Whenever you do an exercise of this scale and magnitude, like a terrorist attack overlaid on a natural disaster, you're practicing for a worst-case scenario," Hatter said. "But it's like going to the gym -- if you don't train regularly, you'll slide backwards."

"I've done several (U.S. Northern Command) exercises, and due to (the joint task force's) thorough and detailed planning, this one went extremely well," said Marine Col. Robert Hedelund, Joint Exercise Control Group director. "Team Alaska hit a home run with this one."

One possible reason for the exercise's success was an innovative committee that brought top-level agency leaders together to tackle crisis management.

"The Antiterrorism Advisory Council Alaska brings together federal, state and local officials to share information, coordinate activities, and look for ways to work together, both day to day and in an emergency situation," Hatter said. "ATACA is all about the power of habitual relationships. ATACA played extremely successfully in Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05 and is being looked at as a best practice for export to other U.S. states and territories."

Another success in Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05, according to a state representative, was an innovative interagency communications tool called the "Common Operating Picture." The COP is an Internet-based tool that allows users to click on a map for details in an emergency situation.

"One of the big things seen in this exercise was increased situational awareness due to the COP," Kang said. "That was a tremendous success. The state is looking into using the COP in the future."

(Air Force Capt. Amy Hansen was assigned to public affairs for Exercise Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05.)

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