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NEWS | May 16, 2014

Pennsylvania Vigilant Guard enhances military-civilian response to multiple disasters

By Maj. Angela King-Sweigart Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa.- Hurricanes, train derailments, hospital collapses, cyber attacks and biological events were some of the challenges to overcome in this week's statewide Vigilant Guard exercise hosted by the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The exercise was designed to improve interoperability between agencies in disaster situations. With more than 2,500 participants including: eight National Guards, U.S. Northern Command, more than 20 Pennsylvania state agencies, more than three federal agencies and other agencies, this exercise demonstrated a massive united response to multiple simulated disaster scenarios.

"When the citizens of the commonwealth need assistance, exercises like these ensure we'll be ready. It was an opportunity to enhance our existing relationship with the Pennsylvania National Guard," said Cory Angell, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman.

The exercise took place in several locations around the state. Interactions between the Pennsylvania National Guard and other agencies were coordinated through the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Force Headquarters, Joint Emergency Operations Center. The JEOC acts as the central point for fielding requests from outside agencies during a time of emergency.

The JEOC receives support requests from civilian entities and then directs the military units to respond. During this exercise, the JEOC responded to more than 60 mission requests. The missions varied and highlighted the flexibility of the National Guard.

For example, Lebanon County simulated a collapsed building and requested support from the National Guard's search and extraction team. Huntington County simulated a hurricane and needed the National Guard to deliver pallets of water to stranded residents. And residents in Dauphin County were stranded in a river and needed helicopter rescue.

"I've been involved with multiple real world state active-duty missions like Hurricane Sandy, but an exercise on this scale really gives us a work out." said Capt. Patrick Line, battle captain of Pennsylvania's JEOC. "It gives an opportunity in a training environment to continuously improve the Pennsylvania National Guard's response when we are activated."