Rodeo scenario at McChord tests emergency response

By Lorin T. Smith/JBLM PAO on July 1, 2011

Joint Base Lewis-McChord tested its ability to respond to a simulated Air Force plane crash on the McChord Field flightline Tuesday for the first time in the joint base's young history. The scenario, designed to evaluate and validate the competence of joint base's emergency management personnel, ensures the base is ready to react immediately should the real thing ever happen.

Using Air Mobility Command's upcoming Rodeo international military airlift competition as the backdrop for the simulated crash of a 62nd Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster III, the Major Accident Response Exercise assessed JBLM directorates' speed, communication and coordination to put out the fire, treat casualties, secure the site and clean up the debris. Mannequins placed in a field near the simulated burning aircraft represented "dead" airplane crew members.

The crashed C-17 ran off the runway and into a construction crew working near the flightline, causing several injuries that required substantial medical attention. The plane's explosion upon impact resulted in injuries to several children a half-mile away at Holiday Park.

More than 60 people volunteered to participate for the exercise, said Dana Lockhart, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

The installation's multifaceted response honed relationships between medical, fire, security forces and readiness personnel. Within minutes of the crash, personnel from the Directorate of Emergency Services, 627th Security Forces Squadron and Madigan Healthcare System were on the scene.

Firefighters put out the fire, evaluated casualties, and delivered the most grievously injured individuals to Madigan paramedics standing by. Security forces set up a cordon around the perimeter, and recovery personnel gathered the wreckage and collected the casualties.

"The expectations were for the exercise to (happen) safely and that we learn we can work together as a joint base," Lockhart said.

The exercise took two months to plan, and validated the emergency response skills of the team of Army, Air Force and civilian employees. Lockhart was pleased that common objectives were achieved while executing the contingency plan.

"The joint base is testing something that no one in this setting has done before," Lockhart said. "It's good to have that communication and see how well (all) sides can work together."

The exercise does not conclude preparedness disaster training and exercises on the joint base. A major earthquake exercise is in development for next year, along with an oil spill cleanup operation.

"Exercises test how well we are able to communicate as a joint base and work together regardless of the type of incident we are dealing with," Lockhart said.

A training byproduct of joint basing is how traditional Army and Air Force assets find best practices or create new ways to tackle major incidents like Tuesday's scenario. For instance, JBLM uses the National Incident Management System for disaster response, which the Air Force started using before the Army. It's the sharing of information that makes first-time exercises like this one easier for both sides to conduct.

"Just the process of building this exercise has advanced a long way in developing the (joint base) relationship," said Ed Wood, DPTMS.