WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 24, 2014) — Imagine this scenario: fans are enjoying a packed sporting event, then suddenly they hear an explosion and hundreds fall ill from a sarin gas attack. Local responders are overwhelmed; the military is called in to assist.
That scene was played out Tuesday, at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium here, as Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region practiced for a mass casualty event with local emergency services and federal responders, as part of Capital Shield 2015.
The purpose of the training is to ensure a swift and effective inter-agency response if an emergency were to occur in the nation’s capital, according to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the commanding general of Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region.
“What we don’t want to do is have to react in a disaster — man-made or mother-nature made — where we’re figuring out how to work together for the first time in a true emergency,” he said.
While the military was created to fight and win the nation’s wars, he said, under emergency authority it can work in the homeland at the request of local, state or federal authorities.
“Ultimately it’s about helping the American people. Even if a Black Hawk helicopter is meant to carry troops into combat, we can use it to move civilian casualties, again, if requested,” he said.
At the exercise, two Army helicopters from the 12th Aviation Battalion transported members of the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force to the site.
It was the first time this Marine Corps force worked with the DC Fire Department in a decontamination training exercise, Buchanan said.
At the stadium, mock victims lay on the sidewalk, people and mannequins were crumpled in stadium seats and actors remained motionless strewn on the floor. Emergency responders in protective gear assessed the situation; victims were evacuated and sent through the decontamination lines.
The Capital Shield exercise, which is held annually, is specialized for the Washington, D.C. area, Buchanan said.
More than 40 federal, state, and local agencies are taking part in the multi-day, multi-location exercise, which continues through Thursday. Other Capital Shield training sites included Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Lorton, Virginia.
“The bottom line is, what we really want to do is save people’s lives, and so cooperation is extremely important,” Buchanan said.
Members of the District of Columbia National Guard’s 33rd Civil Support Team were among the responders at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
Cooperation among entities and readiness are paramount in responding quickly and effectively to emergencies, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Ebbert, the commander of the 33rd Civil Support Team.
“Our role is to support the civilian responders, primarily District of Columbia Fire and EMS, as well as the Metropolitan Police Department. We provide support to our federal partners within the District of Columbia,” he said.
“It’s a unified effort,” he said.
While the DC National Guard works with local authorities on special events such as the State of the Union and inauguration, Capital Shield is truly unique, he said.
“It’s not often that we get to do a full-scale exercise and have all the participants from all the interagency players,” Ebbert said.
Staff Sgt. Tanisha Mercado, with the 33rd Civil Support Team, felt that the training was a success.
“Of course there is always going to be some hiccups and things that we need to work on, but very minor stuff. I think everyone felt comfortable, felt confident and that’s always the important part,” she said.
Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, which is based in at Fort Lesley J. McNair, here, is a regional subordinate of U.S. Northern Command. It is responsible for defense support of civil authorities and incident management in the National Capital Region.