When the unimaginable happens, be ready to respond

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Stephen Wisser
  • Chief, Wing Plans and Exercises
Many people wonder why base exercises are important. A good reason occurred on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City. 

Figured it out yet? I'm referring to one of the largest domestic terrorist acts seen to date when two assailants placed an improvised exploding device, and ignited it, next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building killing 168 people. 

This tragic event led to the emergence of real American heroes in my opinion -- the emergency responders. Having toured the museum and memorial grounds, I am impressed with the multiple fire departments, police departments, medical personnel and numerous other state agencies that mobilized to create an effective response team. Sound familiar? 

During exercise weeks, the Exercise Evaluation Team conducts exercises on a much smaller scale but with one overarching goal -- to test the Air Force Incident Management System. We are directed by regulation - Air Force Instruction 10-2501 and Air Education and Training Command Instruction 10-205 -- to conduct certain types of exercises each calendar year. 

The EET members design scenarios with the specific intent of testing the base response capability. Hopefully we will never encounter one of these disasters but we must be ready for the worst case. 

We utilize these exercises to test the communication and interoperability of our fire department, security forces, medical, readiness and bioenvironmental personnel. 

Exercises also allow our primary support function, the Emergency Operations Center, to operate on the tactical level of the incident while the Crisis Action Team/Commander's Senior Staff functions on the strategic level to assure the base can continue to perform its mission. 

AETC places a high emphasis on exercise completion as they are all tracked to show AFI compliance. 

So now you may ask, "If I'm not in one of the above groups, how am I expected to participate?" 

My answer, "You should do exactly what you are trained to do." 

Participate in an accountability or recall event, evacuate to your designated area if directed to do so, shelter in place if required and provide self-aid and buddy care to injured personnel. 

If these are new or unfamiliar concepts to you, get with your unit's emergency management representative right now. Realism is the key to any successful exercise. You must respond as if it is really happening and limit the amount of simulations -- or training will be sacrificed. 

Some actions, however, can be simulated - like turning off heating and air conditioning systems -- and they are listed in the Vance Supplement to AETCI 10-205. Any questions can be answered by your unit's EET members. 

Finally, we must play for real at every opportunity. Can you imagine playing in the Super Bowl having never played a regular season game or even conducted a practice? You can just imagine what your performance might be. 

This is why every exercise block should be treated as game time and everyone should play for real. Don't wait for the designated exercise week to begin to prepare. You never know when the unimaginable will happen and you must be ready to respond.