Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wyoming Guard supports Utah during major earthquake exercise

By Army National Guard Capt. Tim Lockwood, Wyoming National Guard

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Members of the Wyoming National Guard supported their neighbors in Utah recently as they helped them train and prepare for potential natural disasters, specifically those that could affect the Salt Lake City area.

The Guard members are spending three days participating in Utah Shakeout, a large scale, multi-agency disaster exercise in Utah.

Local, state and federal agencies simulated a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hitting the Wasatch Valley area April 19, which included the metropolitan Salt Lake City area. A disaster of that magnitude has the potential to leave nearly 86,000 people displaced if it were to actually occur.

"This exercise for us is about the state of Wyoming helping out its neighbors to the west," said Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, adjutant general of the Wyoming National Guard. "We know that Salt Lake City sits on a significant fault and we're told it's only a matter of time until it goes – not if, but when."

Organizations, schools and individuals across Utah simulated everything from setting up shelters to taking cover during the earthquake. As part of the exercise, Wyoming's Joint Task Force Cowboy, the T71 Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, and 84th Civil Support Team, all deployed in an effort to support exercise operations.

Task Force Cowboy and the JISCC are based at Camp Williams, Utah for the exercise and have been providing support for emergency operations of civilian authorities and Utah National Guard members by helping with the processing and tasking of additional military units that are flowing into the area.

"A devastating earthquake in this area is a real possibility," said Col. Shelley Campbell, the commander of JTF Cowboy. "This training exercise is providing our Guard members valuable insight into assisting a large scale, multi-agency disaster exercise.

"We need to be prepared to respond and support our neighbors in their time of need," she said. "We are here to help civilian authorities practice in saving lives and mitigating damage."

The JTF and JISCC are performing joint reception staging and onward integration, functions. That means the task force is welcoming units from others states such as Idaho and Colorado as they arrive. The JTF then provides situational and priority information briefings to each force package before providing them their assignments for assisting local authorities.

"This is good training for our Joint Task Force, which we know we will be utilizing in the event of a disaster in Wyoming or neighboring states," Reiner said. "They are doing great. They are receiving a lot of good training and there is a lot of communication going on up and down the line, which is absolutely key."

Reiner added the key to a synchronized response is common understanding of the situation.

"There is focus on maintaining a common operating picture, which means every civilian, every emergency responder, every Soldier and Airman should see and know the same information as everyone else," he said.

The 84th CST is providing a different type of assistance to the communities of Utah affected by the simulated quake. They are supporting areas southeast of Salt Lake City with search and rescue efforts and the identification and mitigation of hazardous materials.

In addition, personnel with the Wyoming Joint Force Headquarters Joint Operations Center have been supporting the exercise from Cheyenne. They provide the support necessary for the deployed Wyoming Guard members in the areas of personnel tracking, logistics and information.

According to exercise organizers, the main goal of the Utah Shakeout is to get residents prepared for major earthquakes and help government agencies, private organizations and emergency personnel coordinate how to handle a disaster recovery.