PORTLAND, Ore. – For nearly two weeks, Guardsmen from the Portland Air National Guard Base supported Operation Plan Smokey, an interagency wildfire relief effort. But the Airmen on the front lines are not the only ones who responded to Oregon’s state of emergency.
Members of the Oregon National Guard worked behind the scenes in the Emergency Operations Center Sept. 10-22. The Airmen coordinated personnel and equipment during the wildfire emergency.
During the height of operations, several EOC members shared their experience.
“The EOC is a pressure-packed environment,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Victoria, 142nd Wing deputy commander and EOC director. “The 11 core personnel are consistently working on hundreds of tasks in planning, preparing, and executing the mission. We are the conduit to the units being tasked to provide personnel and equipment, which is utilized in the field to help our communities.”
Members of the Guard are deployed to provide firefighting support. Others who returned to base Sept. 22 aided in traffic control and mortuary affairs. EOC members worked hand-in-hand with base units and leadership to make these deployments happen.
“The EOC gathers representation from all the units on base so that we can get a complete picture,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeffery Jacobs, 142nd Civil Engineer Squadron installation emergency manager and primary EOC manager. “We provide the wing commander with the capabilities and the readiness from each unit to fulfill whatever the directives are that come down.”
The EOC is designed to align with civilian emergency management methods. Airmen coordinated efforts with the Oregon Joint Operations Center and the state’s Office of Emergency Management to support the governor’s priorities.
They met early each day to provide command and control where needed.
“We come at 6:30 a.m. to make sure that the EOC is activated at 7 a.m.,” said Senior Airman Chastilynn Tittle, 142nd CES emergency manager. “So that’s making sure that all the screens are up, everything’s running, that the software that we use is working fine so that when the EOC director comes, he can see what we’ve been working on.”
The team was staffed by a director, manager and unit representatives from security forces, civil engineering, communications, personnel and services, logistics, medical, aircraft maintenance and operations. Jacob’s job was to make sure the team stayed on track.
“When people are off task, I help try to steer them in the right direction,” he said. “I try to keep us focused on what our goals are and help establish a battle rhythm.”
Tittle said the members sometimes had to react quickly to different scenarios.
“You just never know the complications that can come up,” Tittle said. “You have to react fast to make sure that everything is OK when you find a solution for things. For the most part, everyone in the EOC does a pretty good job at keeping it calm. If it does get stressful, I have so many people in there I can turn to for help.”
Victoria said the EOC can be activated during any emergency requiring a base-wide response, such as accident response, natural disasters, or active shooter events. The team is not activated every year in support of OPLAN Smokey. However, this year’s wildfire emergency called for greater support.
“The 142nd Wing is responsible to prepare a firefighting team of 75 service members in the event the state needs our help,” Victoria said. “This year’s firefighting response far exceeded previous demands.”
Jacobs said in previous years, he supported OPLAN Smokey on the front lines of the fire.
“I’ve been to the fires before three times as hand-crew personnel, so digging ditches and stuff like that,” he said. “You definitely feel like you’re having a direct effect. But in the EOC, I have a higher view of what’s going on, and I feel like I’m able to more directly impact the wing’s ability to accomplish its mission.”
Tittle, a safety coordinator at her regular civilian job, said she enjoys working in emergency management. She wants to respond to the fires in person in the future.
“I’ve already said next year I’m definitely going to get my red card [firefighting] training so I can help respond,” she said. “When you see the behind the scenes, you can also be a lot more patient and understanding of why things are happening the way they are.”
The EOC team is the backbone of emergency response at the 142nd Wing.
“To the citizens of Oregon,” said Victoria, “we are present in your communities and are there to support you.”