Covid-19 has caused many changes within our ARES training program and while Zoom meetings keep us connected, it was time for a social distancing field exercise on Monday, January 18th. The exercise scenario was created around the Christmas Day Nashville, Tennessee bombing which destroyed an AT&T exchange. Could an incident like that happen here?
The build up to the exercise began with deconstructing the actual event. The real incident was a powerful bomb placed in an RV in downtown Nashville. An audible warning coming from the RV gave police time to evacuate most of the homeless and apartment dwellers before the explosion, but the devastation caused by the explosion scattered debris and evidence all over the area. While we certainly were not going to recreate the bombing, we were going to practice the ARES response. Both the Police Chief and Fire Chief were contacted as we explained our plan. Both summarized what their real response would be like. In our scenario, the explosion would go off at noon in the downtown area next to a small telephone exchange. We consulted an ATF chart and computed the total blast area as well as the minimum evacuation distances.
The ARES response would include: help in setting up an exclusionary zone using barricades, cones and/or vehicles to keep the public out; setting up amateur radio mobile comms (Comm II and III) in case of possible disruption to the 911 system; establish two medical helicopter landing zones for possible mass casualty scenarios; activate the Mt. View Baptist Church shelter and set up comms there; and put in place a net control from the Riverside Fire Authority’s Emergency Coordination Center (ECC).
With a Incident Action Plan and a safety briefing given, team members were given assignments and radio frequencies before being deployed. To make the exercise more interesting, we decided to use only our simplex frequencies. We did keep a repeated frequency available as a safety channel. Using simplex would possibly require one or more relay stations. Our goal was solid simplex comms from the 911 center to the downtown city areas. During almost a three hour exercise, team members were able to set up comms at the shelter site, establish two landing zones and work through the comms associated with those sites, and practice simplex communications all around Centralia and Chehalis. All simplex comms were successful with only a few relays required when using our HT’s. The comm vans were also able to test 6 meter simplex operations as well. We learned valuable lessons when using the HT’s with a far better understanding of where they can be useful and what buildings and hills can disrupt their use.
Overall, we knew going into this exercise that we didn’t have enough ARES personnel to cover all barricade sites for what could be multiple days as evidence technicians logged and tagged every piece of debris in a wide area. We discussed using ARES mutual aid and other volunteer resources. This exercise, on a cold, windy January day, went well and as usual during this type of training, we learned what worked and what didn’t. Thanks to our served agencies, Centralia Police and Riverside Fire Authority for their support and thanks to our great volunteers for a great training exercise.