Friday, March 30, 2012

Joint Base provides guidance, support to FEMA response team

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Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency board a 305th Air Mobility Wing C-17 Globemaster III during a mobility exercise March 20, 2012, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Approximately 30 incident management assistance team members from FEMA Region II, based in New York, N.Y., and FEMA Region III, from Philadelphia, Pa., simulated a hurricane response deployment to Puerto Rico with the help of the 621st Contingency Response Wing and the 305th Air Mobility Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres)
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by Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

3/22/2012 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Airmen from three wings across Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst came together March 20 through 23 to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency with an Operational Readiness Exercise here.

Approximately 30 incident management assistance team members from FEMA Region II, based in New York, N.Y., and FEMA Region III, from Philadelphia, Pa., converged on the 621st Contingency Response Wing's Global Reach Deployment Center for a simulated hurricane response deployment to Puerto Rico. This exercise was observed for training by members of FEMA's National IMAT based in Herndon, Va., and by members of New York City's Urban Search and Rescue Team.

"We hope to gain familiarity with DOD procedures in the event we use military airlift to respond to a disaster," said Mike Sharon, FEMA Region III IMAT leader. "For example, the security and specialized loading requirements are completely different than if we were to show up at Philadelphia International Airport."

"If FEMA needs to use military airlift in the future, we would most likely be flying out of (JB MDL), so learning the layout of the base now will save valuable time in a real-world emergency," Sharon added.

IMATs are FEMA's rapidly deployable emergency response teams. These full-time, rapid-response cells have a dedicated staff able to deploy within two hours and arrive at an incident within 12 hours to support a local incident commander. They support the initial establishment of a unified command and provide situational awareness for federal and state decision-makers, crucial to determining the level and type of immediate federal support that may be required.

The seeds for this interagency training and mobility partnership exercise began back in 2010, explains Master Sgt. Steve Dirksen, 621st CRW affiliation lead and wing plans superintendent.

"The 621st CRW has been teaching load planning, pallet buildup, weighing and cargo marking to FEMA and other federal partners since 2010," said Dirksen. "Recently, they called us and asked if they could come out and put their military airlift plans into action. We agreed, and felt it was a great opportunity to strengthen our training partnership."

Soon, a plan came together that would test the mobility processes of FEMA and call upon an increasing number of Joint Base resources. Just as it would in a real-world deployment, the 87th Air Base Wing Deployment Control Center stood up; they became the base focal point responsible for coordinating the flow of information, passengers and cargo between FEMA, the CRW and the 305th Air Mobility Wing.

"A lack of user expertise and cargo preparation knowledge often delays the joint inspection process, potentially leading to late aircraft departures," said Karen Lamphere, 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron installation deployment officer. "Working closely with our federal partners during exercises like this is essential to preventing delays during an actual mobilization."

Airmen from the CRW were tasked to provide cargo preparation and joint inspection expertise and a sheltered working area for FEMA to set up a mobile command center and test its equipment, explains Tech. Sgt. David Lund, 621st CRW wing plans NCO in charge.

Two IMAT response vehicles full of equipment were then processed for air shipment by members of the 305th Aerial Port Squadron and loaded onto a 305th AMW C-17 Globemaster III to provide familiarity with military cargo procedures to the FEMA observers. Finally, all exercise participants boarded the cargo-loaded C-17 and were provided a safety and familiarization briefing.

The entire process was helpful and informative, said Michael Anama, FEMA Region II equipment manager.

"We are finding and fixing a number of kinks in the process, but have had no real surprises," said Anama. "By the end of this week, I'm sure we will have a lot more information we can use to streamline our internal procedures and work more efficiently with the DOD airlift system on future deployments."

For the FEMA IMAT leadership, seeing it all come together was a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

"It's been a great partnership and we enjoyed the opportunity for our civilian personnel to go through the mobility process and experience what the conditions will be like in the back of an aircraft," said Sharon. "This is the kind of real world, hands-on training we can't get in a regional office. It's just great to be out here and experience everything from start to finish."

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