Homeland Response Force receives certification in Pennsylvania

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum
  • 111th FW Public Affairs
Mock scenario:  A huge tanker truck carrying potential lethal chemical agents has just exploded in a heavily populated area in Nowheresville, USA. The event immediately spurs panic, chaos and disbelief among the residents. State and local emergency  response forces are overwhelmed as the possibility of nearly 60,000 people may be directly impacted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was alerted and beckons for equipment, manpower and expertise specializing in decontamination, extraction of injured and immediate medical attention.

     On Oct. 29, Pennsylvania was added to a growing select group of states that have a program geared towards assisting FEMA in dealing with scenarios of this nature.  Starting Oct. 23, the one week exercise held at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. brought together over 570 Army and Air Guard members from all reaches of the state.
     The Homeland Response Force (HRF) is comprised of several large specialized groups responsible for addressing different aspects of a disaster of this magnitude. These components, individually or collectively, can be called upon to aid in local, state or national emergencies.
     Security and control of the event sight is essential.  Control of personnel, vehicles and equipment into a devastated zone is essential for orderly traffic flow and to reduce the possibility of endangering others. Security personnel may even be required to perform crowd control or implement civilian disobedience measures to suppress uprisings, looting and crime within the area.
     Search and extraction teams are trained to recover injured personnel. Examples of rescue locations could include building rubble such as a large inner-city parking garage brought down by an earthquake or detonation of an explosive. Teams work with equipment such as listening devices to identify locations of injured, the Jaws of Life, chain saws and cutting torches to remove material trapping the injured. The team members first priority is the recovery of the injured. Recovery and extraction of the dead will be handled by different team members secondarily.
     Injured personnel are given a cursory evaluation upon recovery: Are they contaminated with harmful agents? Can they walk? Would efforts to save the life of an extremely injured victim prevent saving several less injured people?
Accounting for each victim entering the treatment area is vital. Wrist bands, essentially with universal product codes, containing available identification information are placed on each victim as they enter. Computer based tracking occurs from intake through discharge of the center. This information accountability provides immediate command and control visibility on the human impact, resource management and accurate up-channeling to federal, state and local authorities.
     Due to the possible nuclear, biological or chemical element that may come into play at the disaster site, thorough detection on-site and on the victims is critical.  A variety of sensing and identifying devices can be seen during all facets of the operation. Preventing contaminated individuals from processing through clean areas expedites care. Contaminated personnel and equipment are diverted to different processes to reduce the potential for cross contaminating aid workers and the necessary equipment. 
     The injured are treated according to need priority.  Patients are medically stabilized, addressing the ABCs (airway, breathing and circulation) and prepared for release or transportation to outside full-treatment facilities such as local hospitals, clinic or an expeditionary medical system setup in the area.
     The vast amount of specialized equipment used and cycling of qualified personnel necessitates continual training sessions. This was the second unified training assembly this year for Army and Air Guard units across the state. "After a few short hours, you can readily see the process melding together of the various units. The process spins-up quickly," said Chief Master Sgt. Marion Livesay of the 111th Medical Group. "Once activated, we have a mere six to 12 hours to be on location and only 90 minutes afterwards to be fully operational and ready to accept victims," she added.
     Pennsylvania joins Ohio and Washington, becoming the third state of ten to be certified in this program. FEMA divides the U.S. into ten geographic zones. Current and future certified HRF assigned states will have primary, or host, responsibility within these zones. Additional states: Mass., N.Y., Ga., Texas, Mo., Utah and Calif. are expected to be in place no later than fiscal year 2012. Another state-wide recurring training week is tentatively scheduled for spring of 2012.