CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Over the past two years, Colorado has had plenty of real-world experience with natural disasters such as wildfires, which this makes pre-disaster training essential to refine processes and implement lessons learned.
In the case of the Vigilant Guard exercise, which was held throughout Colorado July 22-26, National Guard units from eight different states worked hand-in-hand with emergency response agencies, first responders and hospital staffs to hone those processes.
Responses to all exercise scenarios used the guideline set forth by the National Incident Management System, which prescribes a type of systematic and proactive approach to guide departments and agencies deal with natural and manmade disasters. These guidelines are used at various levels within the government, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners, in order to work seamlessly to reduce the potential for loss of life and property.
Overseeing each exercise site was an Incident Management Team; trained professionals who are experienced and certified in their emergency-response specialties.
An IMT is also able to tap into federal, state and local land and emergency management agencies to request support, and a state’s National Guard is just one resource which can be called upon to assist, bringing with it a large and diverse amount of available people, skills and equipment.
"The capabilities we provide are needs-based in support of the incident management team," said Army National Guard Master Sgt. Michael Simco, operations noncommissioned officer in charge of the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Centennial, Colo.
And when a state experiences an emergency that requires resources not available within the state, the emergency management agencies can call upon other states for support through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
EMAC is a national, mutual-aid partnership agreement that allows state-to-state assistance during governor- or federally-declared emergencies. During Vigilant Guard, this process was exercised by bringing in support from seven other states.
Agencies requiring support in Colorado submit requests to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, where officials ensure the proper resources are provided to an incident, including the appropriate staff and equipment, in order to meet the needs of the requesting agency.
During the Vigilant Guard exercise scenario, the National Guard, along with its state regional partners and civilian agencies, were activated to assist in wildfire firefighting efforts in Colorado Springs, Colo., while almost simultaneously, a series of catastrophic tornadoes in the Denver metro area.
Such a large-scale National Guard operation requires direction and coordination. During the exercise — and in real world operations — it’s provided by the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Operations Center.
The most visible member of the Colorado National Guard's Joint Task Force-Centennial is the JTF commander, Brig. Gen. Peter J. Byrne, who works closely with the incident commander in an effort to maintain situational awareness of local, state, and federal actions; and ensures the adequacy and effectiveness of response, support, and safety activities.
This Vigilant Guard exercise is event driven, and requires each participating agency to complete a protocol recommended by the National Incident Management System. This allows complete oversight of the incident, from initial request for assets to units being released from the incident.
Military participants included units and representatives from the U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard Bureau, the Colorado National Guard, the Utah National Guard, the New Mexico National Guard, the Nevada National Guard, the North Dakota National Guard, the Idaho National Guard, the Wyoming National Guard and the Arizona National Guard.