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Base showcases unique disaster response capabilities

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lou Burton
  • 178th Public Affairs
Members of the 178th Fighter Wing and 269th Combat Communications Squadron participated in a 50-hour exercise that showcased unique capabilities for incident awareness and assessment during domestic disasters, April 4-5.

The exercise scenario was based on a geographical area affected by a tornado. This exercise was in response to the base being identified as having a unique capability to provide aerial information of a disaster location, while additionally providing communications support.

"We are one of only two Guard units in the entire country to have reach back capability," said 1st Lt. Matthew Thorpe of the 178th Fighter Wing. "Combine that with our coordination with a deployable communications squadron, we are the only base in the Air National Guard with this capability.

Even though the exercise was a simulated disaster, it reflected one of two real-world requests that could call the 178th into action.

"We can be called upon for our capabilities in two different requests," said Thorpe. "First, we are able to respond to state emergencies like floods and tornados under Title 32. Second, we can respond nationally to large-scale disasters like hurricane Katrina."

Utilizing multi-agency coordination, the exercise involved input and data collection from the State Highway Patrol and the Civil Air Patrol.

Thorpe explained that members of the 178th played three distinct roles in the exercise. First, a Forward team that made a first-hand assessment of the situation. Second, the 269th Combat Communications Squadron provided communication capabilities with a mobile satellite, electricity, telephone, internet and video conferencing and information technology services. Third, the Reachback team handled content analysis.

"We had six hours after the notification of the incident to establish communications capabilities for the disaster area incident commander," said 1st Lt. Travis Clarkson, 269th Combat Communications Joint Incident Sight Communications Capability Team commander. "Our team is able to travel to provide this support. All we require is fuel and food, we provide the rest."

After the initial assessment of the disaster area is formed and the communications capabilities are established, the Reachback team provides the incident commander with valuable information of effected areas and available emergency routes.

"We are not geographically bound. Our Reachback capability can respond anywhere in the country without having to incur the cost of deploying Airmen," said Thorpe.

An after action report of the exercise will be sent to the National Guard Bureau.