Hawaii CERF-P put skills to the test at Vigilant Guard 2017

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs
A major earthquake struck California and Nevada causing fatalities and damage to major infrastructure. Fires and disruption to basic services and utilities compounded the severity of the situation. High amounts of casualties were sustained as California and Nevada Emergency Medical Services were strained to the point of being overrun.

It's only a scenario, but it's a scenario that disaster response agencies hope to never have to respond to. Regardless, emergency officials want to be prepared.

The fictional, yet not out of the realm of possibility situation was what disaster planners and responders had to contend with as part of Exercise Vigilant Guard California/Nevada 2017 [VG17].

Vigilant Guard is an exercise program sponsored by the United States Northern Command [USNORTHCOM] in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau [NGB]. It aims to provide state national guards with a valuable training opportunity to improve cooperation and relationships with their regional civilian, military, and federal partners in preparation for emergencies and catastrophic events.

The exercises occur annually across the U.S. and is a showcase for Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] regions. It brings together civil support teams, National Guard emergency response units, and local and state emergency responders into regional state play.

As part of the exercise, more than 175 Hawaii Air and Army National Guardsmen deployed to California, Nov. 14 to 20 to take part in the simulated disaster relief efforts.

The task force was part of the Hawaii National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package [CERF-P].

"The CERF-P is a team made up of 203 Army and Air National ā€ˇGuardsmen who respond to disasters which exceed the capacity of local responders in the areas of search and rescue, mass casualty decon, medical triage, fatality search and recovery, and communications." said Hawaii CERF-P commander, Army Maj. William Flynn.

The HIANG's Detachment 1 Headquarters 154th Medical together with California Air Guard counterparts formed the emergency medical response element. Some of the capabilities they brought to the table were search and rescue medical response, trauma treatment, and incident triage support.

"Det 1 is a new unit for the Hawaii Air National Guard," said Lt. Col. James Faumuina, commander, Det 1 HQ 154 MDG. "It's a very unique component in terms of our medical capabilities to support civilian authorities in domestic operations."

While California and Nevada have National Guard CERF-P teams of their own, the severity of the simulated catastrophe required support from out of state. Hawaii CERF-P, being in the same FEMA region as California deployed as a result.

"Typically, a state will be impacted and the incident overwhelms the state and they need to bring in other resources," Faumuina said. "The more the incident expands, the more capacity you need to add to it."

Once an official request for assistance is made, Hawaii CERF-P can organize and deploy to the incident within a relatively short amount of time.

For this exercise, airlift of personnel and equipment was accomplished through a combination of Guard C-17 Globemaster, KC-135 Stratotanker, and C-130 Hercules aircraft.

CERF-P's specially trained airmen and soldiers are organized into six units: Command and Control, Medical Response, Decontamination, Search and Extraction, Fatality Search and Recovery, and Joint Incident Site Communications Capability.

The idea is that the CERF-P organization can deploy in parts or as a whole package for a tailored response to a given incident.

"CERF-P is modular such that if request for assistance for only Search and Rescue capability, then we would respond in kind." Flynn said.

Hawaii National Guard soldiers and airmen teamed up for search and extraction exercises. Events requiring decontamination were handled by Army Guard personnel while Air Guard crews took care of Medical, Fatality Search and Rescue, and Communications.

"Joint Incident Site Communication Capability [JISCC] provides voice, data, video and radio accessibility between local, state and federal agencies," said Chief Master Sgt. Nolen Kanekuni who heads the JISCC team. "The system is so flexible that a county sheriff on a cell phone can call up a military commander who is using a common military radio."

Exercise scenarios were designed to press agencies to their maximum as the California training sites provided a wide variety of training props and facilities, and offered the opportunity for a comprehensive examination of an emergency agency's abilities.

"It's one of the best opportunities to get out and get to know our other state partners," said Faumuina. "When you look at an incident, it's not always going to be a state or local event. It could be a regional event."

According to Flynn, VG17 also provided value outside of the obvious gains from training.

"We use these national level events in order to hone our skills with other teams from FEMA Region nine and across the country. The exercise also gives the community feeling of security knowing that the National Guard will be there in times of disaster." Flynn said.