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Va. National Guard hosting Vigilant Guard response exercise

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard | May 7, 2018

SANDSTON, Va. — More than 2,000 National Guard personnel from six states and Washington, D.C., are taking part in the Vigilant Guard 18-3 emergency response exercise from today through Thursday at multiple locations in Virginia to improve their ability to respond to a natural disaster and enhance relationships with local, state and federal emergency response partners.

The event will simulate a Category 4 hurricane making landfall in Virginia and exercise how the Virginia National Guard would assist in the state's response with a full mobilization of personnel and coordination to bring in additional National Guard capabilities to help the state's response effort.

"The hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island last year showed clearly how important it is that the National Guard work closely with our state, local and federal partners," said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia. "Exercises like Vigilant Guard are critical to our ability to make sure we can quickly and effectively provide the kind of support needed to keep the citizens of the commonwealth safe after a hazardous weather event hits."

Vigilant Guard 18-3 is hosted by the Virginia National Guard in partnership with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and the overall program is sponsored by U.S. Northern Command in conjunction with National Guard Bureau, explained Army Col. Todd Hubbard, the exercise director. It is one of multiple exercises taking place the first two weeks in May as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Level Exercise using a common scenario with more 250 agencies participating. The Maryland National Guard will host a Vigilant Guard exercise as well, and other events include NORTHCOM's Ardent Sentry, the U.S. Coast Guard's District 5 Hurricane Exercise, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division Hurricane Exercise and U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command Citadel Gale 2018.

The Virginia National Guard conducts domestic operations as part of a coordinated multi-agency state response, and usually in support of a lead agency like the Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Transportation or local law enforcement or emergency services organizations. VDEM receives support requests from Virginia localities and the Virginia National Guard is one of many organizations that provides capabilities to help meet their needs.

VDEM, along with 18 other state agencies and 39 localities, is exercising its hurricane plans and testing how well local, state and federal agencies work together to address hurricane damage as part of the 2018 National Level Exercise. Exercise play began May 1 and will last through May 11 with the majority of Virginia's participation taking place May 7. Participants will test activities related to pre-landfall preparedness and warning, emergency response and recovery, maintaining essential functions during a major disaster, and management of long-duration power outages and critical interdependencies.

In the training scenario, a Category 4 hurricane makes landfall in Virginia, causing severe loss of life and damage to residences, businesses and critical infrastructure throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The storm causes long-term power outages and cascading effects to critical infrastructure in the National Capital Region, including transportation and communications systems.

The exercise will feature "boots on the ground" field training exercises in Stafford County, the Hampton Roads area, Chesterfield County's Enon Fire Training Center in Chester and the Virginia National Guard's Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Virginia. It will also simulate the process the Virginia National Guard would use to bring in additional capabilities to the state through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

Field training exercises will include point of patient evacuation, distribution operations, responding to a collapsed building, testing for possible chemical contamination and aviation rescue hoist.

During the exercise scenario, the Virginia National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia will focus on the coordination required to generate response capabilities from outside the state. The Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division will be activated as Joint Task Force Omaha and provide mission command for all military operational forces in the state and coordinate directly with VDEM Regions. About 2,000 personnel will be on the ground conducting training and another 8,000 will be simulated as conducting operations.

Anticipated National Guard capabilities for this type of event include evacuation support, damage assessment, search and rescue, communications support, debris reduction, wide area security, point of distribution operations, ground and water transportation, water purification and chemical, biological, nuclear and high explosive response support.

Key training tasks for JFHQ-VA include operational control of response forces, coordination with VDEM, mission command of subordinate units, tactical-level logistics support, force employment, identification of capability gaps and management of transitioning units within task forces.

The Virginia Defense Force will provide support for the exercise as well. The VDF is authorized by the Code of the Virginia as the all-volunteer reserve of the Virginia National Guard and serves as a force multiplier integrated into all National Guard civil support operations.

Units taking part in the field training exercises including the Pennsylvania National Guard's Homeland Response Force, the Virginia National Guard's 34th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package, known as the CERFP, National Guard civil support teams from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Delaware, North Caroline and Washington, D.C., and the Virginia Helicopter Advanced Rescue Team.

A CERFP is capable of providing support to first responders and civil authorities after a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The team is capable of conducting tasks including consequence management, incident site communications, urban search and rescue, mass causality decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and human remains recovery.

There are 10 National Guard-sourced HRFs that are regionally oriented, and eight of the 10 are hosted in a state in each of the Federal Emergency Management Regions. At the core of the HRF is a response capability similar to a CERFP, and it also has substantial command and control and security capabilities. It operates alongside other National Guard-sourced CBRNE Consequence Management forces like Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams and CERFPs, as well as federal-controlled elements.

There are 57 National Guard Civil Support Teams in the country. The team is comprised of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial CBRN equipment. Their mission is to support civil authorities in the event of a domestic CBRN incident with the identification and assessment of hazards, advice to civil authorities and facilitating the arrival of follow-on military forces. The team maintains a high rate of readiness and can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification with the rest of the team following within three hours. The CST includes six sections: command, operations, communications, administration and logistics, medical and analytical, and survey. Members of the team can scientifically identify nearly all chemical, biological and radiological substances, assess current and projects consequences of those hazardous substances, advise an incident commander on response measures ad assist with requests for additional support.

The Virginia Helicopter Advanced Rescue Team consists of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division and members of Chesterfield County Fire and Emergency Medical Service Scuba Rescue Team. They work together to provide trained and ready personnel capable of conducting aerial rescue evacuation in situations where there is potential loss of life, limb or eyesight or significant property damage. The two organizations train together on a regular basis.

The CERFP is unique in that it is a task force that includes elements from multiple different units rather than one specific unit. Units in Virginia's 34th CERFP include the following:

– Soldiers assigned to the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion provide command and control and incident management.

– Soldiers assigned to the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company serve as a mass casualty decontamination element.

– Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company operate as the search and extraction element.

– Airmen assigned to the 192nd Medical Group stationed at Langley Air Force Base provide the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element.

– Airmen assigned to the 192nd Communications Flight at Langley Air Force Based provide communications capability using the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, or JISCC.

– Airmen assigned to the 113th Service Squadron from the D.C. National Guard operate as a Fatality Search and Recovery Team.

– The Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group provides training readiness oversight for the CERFP.