May 12, 2008

529th CSSB participates in lane reversal exercise

By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — More than 140 Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Virginia Beach-based 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion partnered May 11 with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia State Police to conduct a two-hour emergency preparedness exercise to test state agencies’ ability to reverse interstate traffic on I-64 between Richmond and Hampton Roads. The lane reversal plan is a contingency option for evacuating the Hampton Roads area in the event of a hurricane or other emergency.

Virginia Guardsman assisted VDOT crews and State Troopers at various locations that included 36 interchanges along the 72-mile stretch. The exercise involved closing I-64 east between I-295 near Richmond at Exit 200 to just east of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel at Exit 272.

In addition to elements of the 529th’s headquarters company, the Richmond-based 1710th Transportation, the Blackstone-based 3647th Maintenance Company and the Richmond-based 183rd Personnel Services Detachment took part in the exercise which ran from 5 to 7 a.m.

This is the second time in as many years that the agencies got together to test the plan, which is just one element of the Commonwealth’s overall hurricane response plan. In the event of a hurricane or other disaster, the governor can order a lane reversal, which will speed the evacuation of the Hampton Roads region.

According to Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., Adjutant General of Virginia, the Guard’s role is an important one.

"One of the most important missions of the Virginia National Guard is providing assistance to civil authorities during times of crisis in the commonwealth," he said. "Taking part in this exercise is an important opportunity for us to work with VDOT, VDEM and the State Police to ensure we are well prepared to respond to a severe weather event in the Tidewater region."

At Exit 200 along I-64, Staff Sgt. Robert Winckler of the 3647th Maintenance Company, ensured everything was in order at 5 a.m.

“We’ve been out here since 3 a.m. just getting ready,” he said. “It’s been kind of slow up to this point but things are starting to pick up.”

He and Spc. Ann Robinson assisted State Police and VDOT at the western-most interchange that was closed off to eastbound traffic.

The exercise implemented the Commonwealth's lane-reversal plan and will allow the agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of communications tools, inter-agency procedures and the incident-command structure. It also provided real-world experience for the crews that will have to quickly close 36 interchanges and safely reverse the direction of travel on the interstate if an evacuation is ordered.

The agencies rehearsed all of the steps needed to place westbound traffic in both the westbound and the eastbound lanes of I-64, but no actual westbound traffic was routed onto the eastbound lanes during the exercise.

The unit’s senior leaders indicated they were pleased with how the exercise was conducted.

“The Soldiers, NCO's and officers all came together to make this mission a success,” said Lt. Col. Byron R. Marshall, the commander of the 529th. “Everyone knew how important it was to the citizens of the Commonwealth to know that the Guard will be prepared in the event we are needed to assist in the evacuation Hampton Roads.”

Col. Janice G. Igou, commander of the 329th Regional Support Group, echoed Marhsall’s assessment of the exercise.

"The soldiers of the 529th spent many hours preparing and exercising drills and inspections for the event,” she said. “Their efforts paid off and they performed in a flawless manner, and I am very proud of their success!"

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