F.S. GABRESKI AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. – The New York National Guard conducted a joint winter storm exercise at the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach in November to maximize readiness in the event of a major snowfall.
Military and civilian authorities made up of the New York Army and Air National Guard, Naval Militia and the New York Guard, with Department of Homeland Security Emergency Services, formed the Joint Task Force for Joint Exercise Winter Storm Madison.
The exercise was modeled on Winter Storm Nemo, which caused a significant response from the 106th Rescue Wing, including pararescuemen and combat rescue officers who were sent on multiple rescue missions, said Capt. Douglas Duncan, the officer in charge and a planner of the exercise.
Nemo, a blizzard that formed from the combination of two low-pressure areas, severely affected the American Northeast and Canada with heavy snow and hurricane-force winds in November 2013.
"As we get into the winter months, this helps us prepare and helps get the wheels turning so if something does happen, we're ready to go," said Lt.Col. Glyn Weir, the 106th Mission Support Group commander, a Joint Task Force commander for the exercise and a combat rescue officer.
Events from the blizzard of 2013 were scenarios in the exercise that included roof collapses, stranded motorists, displaced residents and warming stations for shelter.
Communication can be challenging when several agencies work together and can hinder the efficiency of disaster response. Interservice exercises help avoid confusion between agencies, build relationships and knowledge of each other's capabilities, Weir said.
Communication can also be compromised when storms damage transmission lines. Collapsed cell towers and downed internet, phone and power lines can make responding to emergencies more difficult.
When officials and responders need to establish reliable communication or extend their range, the Mobile Emergency Response Center (MERC) is towed where needed and set up by Airmen and Soldiers to establish or extend the range of communication.
"We simulated cell towers being down and issues with our mobile radios being out of range, so we deployed the MERC," said Master Sgt. Paul Clemente, an exercise planner and noncommissioned officer in charge of the exercise. "It's a big antenna. When it's set up, it allows us to communicate in a 40-mile radius through satellite and radio transmissions."
Another major scenario of the training event, a roof collapse, borrowed from events of Nemo and allowed the host unit to showcase an important asset.
"A great capability we have is the Urban Search and Rescue Team of the 106th Civil Engineering Squadron, and we wanted to highlight them to our partner agencies," Duncan said.
The two-day event condensed what could be a disaster response that lasts for weeks. The participants faced a barrage of scenarios at a pace meant to be as challenging and realistic as possible.
"The exercise allowed valuable exposure for more Wing members to this aspect of our domestic operations," Duncan said. "This ensures that we are capable of carrying out our federal combat rescue mission while maintaining the capabilities to succeed at our state mission."