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Military, civilian emergency communications tested

by 1st Lt. Erika Yepsen
Joint Task Force - Alaska Public Affairs


5/14/2007 - FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AFPN) -- A two-week national-level exercise involving local, state and federal government agencies is proving the capabilities of a system designed to provide effective communication and organization between different emergency responders.

Being tested at Ardent Sentry/Northern Edge 2007, the Incident Command System is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Incident Management System, which is being implemented nationwide.

The ICS is a unified command and control system driven by a presidential directive that covers the Department of Defense and civilian federal government agencies, said Maj. Darren Deroos, the 3rd Wing chief of inspections and exercises at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

"The Air Force took the National Incident Management System and customized it, which is how we came up with AFIMS - the Air Force Incident Management System - which the Air Force implemented across the service in February," Major Deroos said.

The incident command system is a combination of facilities, equipment, operators, procedures and communications designed to aid in domestic incident management activities. It can be used for a broad spectrum of emergencies, according to FEMA's national incident management system Web site.

"It really clarifies lines of communication and who has command of what in an emergency," Major Deroos said. "This exercise is our biggest full scale of test of ICS including civilian counterparts."

The system is finding wide use during this year's Alaska Shield/Northern Edge exercise, which is specifically designed to test communication and streamline response efforts between government agencies at all levels - local, state, Department of Defense and other federal. Throughout the exercise, military and civilian first responders work together as they react to crisis scenarios, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks or other emergency situations.

May 8 and 9, military, civilian and federal authorities partnered to respond to two incidents - a simulated train collision involving hazardous materials and mass casualties here, and a simulated terrorist attack on the North Pole Refinery Complex in nearby North Pole, Alaska.

During both incidents, emergency responders used ICS to coordinate their efforts.

"This exercise is the perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of AFIMS and ICS and the ability of the Air Force to integrate with its civilian counterparts during an emergency," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser, Alaska Command commander. "Alaska is uniquely equipped to put this system through its paces because the state is leading the country in implementing the national incident management system."

Civilian organizations are already finding ICS to be exceptional in its use, creating more effective communication and improving response efforts.

"The fire department and emergency medical service have been using the system for a long time, but it's new to law enforcement and we needed this opportunity to train with it," said Brad Johnson, Fairbanks deputy police chief. "We want to be able to work a small or large scale incident with ICS."

In addition, the Alaska Railroad Corporation has been using the system for years, said Ernest Piper, the Alaska Railroad Corporation assistant vice president of operations. who participated in the May 8 train collision exercise.

"At first, people were skeptical about it, but now we have the smoothest ICS process in the state," Mr. Piper said.

 "We use it for everything. It's perfect because you can use it for almost any kind of short term emergency management situation," he said. 

Senior Master Sgt. David Hudson, 3rd Wing Inspector General's superintendent of readiness and emergency management, echoed Mr. Piper's praise for the system.

"It's been a slow implementation, but I think it was the right thing to do," Sergeant Hudson said. "It streamlined a process and made a better process for the Air Force that we were able to meld with our civilian counterparts."

While Elmendorf has been operating under the AFIMS and ICS systems since last year, the rest of the Air Force is scheduled to achieve initial capability by December and final capability by December 2009, according to the AFIMS Senior Leader Guide to Implementation and Sustainment. 



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