Aug. 10, 2010

Homeland security exercise improves readiness

By Cotton Puryear
Virginia Dept. of Military Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard conducted a five-day simulation exercise July 26-30 to focus training readiness on the Guard’s ability to respond to homeland security threats and work with interagency partners at the local, state and federal level. Based out of the Virginia Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Sandston, the exercise involved more than 200 personnel from the Virginia Army National Guard, Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force.


The Virginia National Guard conducts a demonstration of its radiological and chemical decontamination capabilities July 27 at the Joint Operations Center in Sandston. The demonstration was part of the Virginia Guard’s five-day command post simulation exercise that kicked off July 26 to focus training readiness on the Guard’s ability to respond to homeland security threats and work with interagency partners at the local, state and federal level. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

In an effort to improve the Guard’s inter-agency cooperation, more than 70 representatives from other agencies such as the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joint Task Force - Civil Support, Joint Task Force - National Capitol Region, the Department of Homeland Security and Stafford County also took part in the exercise.

“Our response to domestic emergencies is one of the most important functions the Virginia National Guard performs in service to the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia. “It is critical that we are prepared to act when called upon by the Governor to protect the lives properties and interests of Virginians in partnership with our civilian counterparts in the response community.”

A year ago the Guard conducted a simulation exercise based on the scenario of a major hurricane hitting the Hampton Roads area. This year’s exercise scenario picked where last year’s scenario left off and terrorists have decided to launch a series of attacks in the aftermath of the hurricane. As part of the simulation scenario, terrorists detonate a radiological dispersion device in the National Capitol Region, and it triggered further deployment of Virginia National Guard resources in coordination with the Virginia Emergency Response Team and other local, state and federal agencies.

“One of the big things we learned from last year’s hurricane response exercise was that we needed to improve our level of training with our interagency partners, so we are glad to have the participation of local, state and federal organizations in this exercise,” said Col. Rob McMillin, director of joint operations for the Virginia National Guard who now serves as the Virginia Army National Guard chief of staff.

McMillin said the exercise simulated working through the process of responding to an RDD event in order to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the Virginia Guard’s existing plans and what steps need to be taken to close any gaps once they have been identified. The exercise focused on command and control, resource sustainment and how Virginia Guard forces would integrate into local, state and federal response organizational structures.

One of the big lessons learned was the improvement of mutual understanding of agency capabilities between DMA and other state agencies, and McMillin said the Guard will develop a continual education process to help improve the level of understanding with partner agencies. In addition, the Guard will try to put more liaison personnel at the incident site to help first responders better understand what capabilities the Guard can provide.

The Guard also identified improvements that can be made on the process from bringing in forces from outside of Virginia, and the process will be tested on a quarterly basis, McMillin said. He said the Guard also identified ways to improve how operational information is shared among different staff sections and will look at way to simplify some of the information sharing processes.

“The Virginia National Guard doesn’t operate on its own in a state emergency response, but as part of joint interagency team,” McMillin said. “Every opportunity we have to train with these other agencies means we will be better prepared when we are needed by the citizens of Virginia.”

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