By Staff Sgt. Lalita Laksbergs
128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Members of the Utah National Guard Homeland Response Force (HRF) participated in regional disaster training in Missouri, May 14-18, as part of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) exercise hosted by the Missouri National Guard.
The UTNG HRF is a specialized unit, part of the 97th Troop Command, trained to respond within six hours after notification to a CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive) incident, terrorist attack, or other domestic emergency in support of civil authorities. HRF Soldiers are trained in command and control, casualty search and extraction, medical triage, decontamination and force protection in order to save lives, mitigate human suffering, and prepare for future responders.
The UTNG HRF worked alongside members of the Missouri and Colorado National Guard, Boone County (Missouri) Fire Protection District, Task Force One and observers from the West Virginia National Guard Joint Interagency Training and Education Center (JITEC). These agencies participated in urban search and rescue operations in Columbia, Missouri, at the Boone County Fire Training Center responding as if the state had experienced a catastrophic 7.7 magnitude earthquake.
"The Utah National Guard is part of this exercise because we're part of the plan to support Missouri in the event of an earthquake," said Col. Scott Burnhope, commander, 97th Troop Command and HRF. "We're practicing skills that we need such as command and control and search and extraction in order to better support the mission. Every time we get a chance to work together with other partners in an event it's going to help."
The week-long, full-scale exercise included a fully staffed state emergency operations center, disaster medical assistance team, swift water rescue response, search and extraction missions and other disciplines within the participating organizations.
A catastrophic NMSZ earthquake would cause a significant public emergency, immediately straining the capabilities of local National Guard forces. Assistance from other state National Guard units would be requested to respond. The responding agencies must be able to integrate as seamlessly as possible for effective, efficient response to the community and region.
"Being able to respond and train with our partners, like the National Guard, gives us the ability to be even stronger in response to what the people and communities are going to need for our state," said Chuck Leake, task force leader, Missouri Task Force One. Leake also serves as the assistant chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District.
"The one big positive I want to highlight from all of this is the consistency of the [National] Guard spirit. The people that we work with in the Missouri National Guard, we have enjoyed working with for many years," said Leake. "What we've seen with Utah and Colorado National Guard personnel who are here is that they have the same dedication, the same spirit. These are real world scenarios, with real world people working side-by-side and they did so very well."
Throughout the exercise, members of the 116th Engineer Company, UTNG, trained with other local Missouri agencies during search and extraction missions, shoring of unstable structures and breaching of structures to reach hypothetical patients. The eight Soldiers from the 116th Engineer Company involved in the exercise are part of the 50 members assigned to the search and extraction team.
"I've been doing this for five years now and we've worked with Utah and Colorado Task Forces and now the Missouri Task Force," said Sgt. Nathan Olsen, Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 116th Engineer Company, 1457th Engineer Battalion. "This training helps us better prepare for the event of something bad happening. If a task force needs extra hands, we're there to help and integrate with them really well."
The UTNG HRF is one of 10 HRFs in the U.S., each assigned to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region for response.
"FEMA Region 8 HRF would be the responding team to the state of Missouri in the event of a New Madrid earthquake," said Leake. "So the Utah HRF, being the FEMA Region 8 HRF, would respond in."
Each HRF is composed of more than 500 National Guard personnel. The core of each HRF is CBRNE response and substantial command and control and security capabilities. The HRF is capable of managing a catastrophic event and bridges coordination between National Guard response and Federal capabilities.
"The HRF mission is critical given the increased danger that we have responding to domestic terror or disasters," said Lt. Col. Tom Mills, exercise director, West Virginia National Guard, JITEC. "HRFs are trained to respond to these particular hazards and events with their specialized training that other units throughout the country may not have."
The UTNG HRF was established in 2012 as part of a larger reorganization of the Department of Defense's domestic consequence management enterprise, recommended in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.
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