Demonstrating our ability to handle any emergency

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Nowland
  • 71st Flying Training Wing commander
About the time I thought it couldn't get any hotter in Oklahoma, the wet bulb globe temperature goes up another notch. I'm not sure what that means - but an obvious translation is, "Today will be hotter than yesterday." 

Hopefully as you read this, the heat wave has broken and it's cooling off, so while we all work at staying hydrated and avoiding heat stroke, let's look at the third of my four goals for the Wing - "Perfect our emergency management and demonstrate it with a graduation exercise." 

The Unit Compliance Inspection team that visited Vance in February showed us room for improvement when it came to emergency management. They are coming back. We will be prepared, but not because of the inspectors. 

We need to be prepared, because as commander it is my job to make sure everyone -- active duty, civilian, contractor, family members, dogs, cats, every member of Team Vance - is protected during an emergency. 

So, although the past provides lessons and wisdom, it is the present and future that demands our attention. Runway behind you, altitude above you, and gas left on the ramp do you no good. We must look to the future and improve. 

Under the guidance of Lt. Col. Stephen Wisser and his capable crew in Wing Plans and Exercises, we will practice our emergency responses for everything from aircraft crashes and tornadoes to hijackings and chemical releases. 

We launch up to 250 sorties a day at Vance. That's a lot of opportunity for something to go wrong. We must be able to roll out of bed and handle any aircraft emergency, major or minor, without a second of hesitation. 

Our students depend on us for that. Our instructor pilots depend on us, and all their friends and family depend on us to know what we're doing and to get it done. Practice does not make perfect - perfect practice makes perfect. 

When you live in the center of Tornado Alley, it is prudent to know how to react to one, whether it touches down on base or in the local community. 

We need to practice our interactions with Enid and Garfield County disaster response forces. We are all neighbors and need to react to surrounding communities if they are affected by a tornado. 

So, when we practice, we are going to play hard. Sometimes we hurt ourselves more than help with simulations. Everywhere possible, we are going to eliminate pretending. 

For example, Colonel Wisser's team will designate a building as a "civilian hospital" on base. By using an actual vehicle marked as an ambulance, victims will be moved from the emergency area to the "hospital." This will improve accurate patient counts and create a greater sense of urgency for our medical response teams. 

We will actually make more of the phone calls we currently simulate. Are you sure the number you have for your functional at 19th Air Force is current? Only one way to find out -- but when you call the number please remember to let them know you are exercising so we don't stir up a hornets' nest reacting to our exercises. 

I know we are busy and I know our manning is stretched thin. But our readiness demands excellence and that excellence starts with our exercise evaluation team. These are the experts that make sure we're doing things right - which goes back to perfect practice makes perfect. 

Therefore, we will ensure our EET members are the right people with the right experience and demeanor to evaluate our base. These front line players need to be available for exercise planning and especially for evaluating during exercises. 

They are the critical node in preparing the Wing for the ultimate graduation exercise -- a chemical spill from a train or an industrial site that requires us to protect the entire population of the base. 

I am confident we can demonstrate our mastery of emergency management with this scenario. Is this tough? You bet! It involves 10,000 moving parts and communication across the Wing, the city of Enid and Garfield County. 

It is a tough, tough scenario, but it is a real threat. I am not tilting at windmills here. This is not Don Quixote. A threat exists and we will improve our exercise proficiency and capacity to handle this threat. 

You never know when an accident or disaster will happen. In 1991 a tornado hit McConnell AFB, Kan., destroying the base hospital, community center and the gym. In 1994, a B-52 crashed at Fairchild AFB, Wash., killing the four-man crew. Keesler AFB, Miss., was leveled by Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005. 

I'm depending on every member of Team Vance - active duty, civilian and contractor -- to ensure we can handle what comes our way. We must be prepared. We will be prepared. 

It is a tough road which will require extra effort, but remember what they say at a little school nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains -- "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation."

Lives are at stake. We will be lucky.