Keesler exercises major accident response

  • Published
  • By By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Smoke fills the building; burned and bloody victims are led out and treated on the lawn; and the street is lined with fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. Although none of it is real, a major accident response exercise is treated like an actual emergency.

The 81st Training Wing Inspection Team held a MARE for base personnel Aug. 7, to test readiness for a large-scale accident response.

"Every wing across the Air Force is required to put on a certain amount of base-wide exercises to test readiness," said Thane Halsey, 81st Training Wing exercise program manager. "A MARE is required once a year, as well as anti-terrorism, CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives), weather emergency, and active shooter exercises."

In the exercise scenario, there was a structural fire at the Locker House resulting in 25 victims.

The fire department, security forces and Keesler medics were first responders to the scene and rescued the victims from the building. The Locker House was filled with smoke by the WIT and the victims were made up with realistic injuries by the moulage team.

Emergency incidents such as these are managed by Air Force Instruction, which provides standardized steps for any situation, large or small.

"The incident commander is the individual responsible for all accident activities," said James Donnett, Keesler fire chief. "In situations that require the cooperation of multiple departments, the senior fire official is usually designated as the IC and decides what plan of action to take."

The IC decides which base organizations to include and if the Emergency Operations Command should be activated, which is always the case for a MARE, said Donnett.
"The EOC creates a direct line of support between agencies and the incident commander," said Donnett. "It allows him to focus on the site of the emergency and pass the correct information to the base and community."

At the emergency scene, the hierarchy of risk assessment starts with life preservation, then incident stabilization, and ends with property conservation, said Donnett.

"We will risk a life for a life," he said. "We will risk a little to save property, but we will risk nothing for something that can't be saved."

After victims were rescued from the building, treated by Keesler medics, and transferred to Keesler Medical Center and Biloxi Regional Medical Center, the Locker House was assessed for damage. If the situation had been real, all hazards would also be contained and the focus of the incident would shift to recovery, where control of the site is transferred from the IC to another individual or organization.

A particularly sensitive step in the recovery process is the next-of-kin notification for deceased military victims. Even for an exercise, this step is implemented.

"The individual's unit commander and chaplain are required to make the notification," said Chaplain (Capt.) John Boulware, 81st TRW chapel services. "The primary concern is informing the correct family member and making them aware of appropriate support agencies."

For the exercise, an actor plays the part of the next of kin and the required parties make the notification just as they would in a real-world crisis.

"The WIT team makes it as realistic as possible because making these notifications can be inexplicable for the uninitiated," said Boulware.

Throughout the exercise, the WIT monitors and takes note of proper action.

A MARE is one of many types of exercises scheduled by the WIT each year and has a variety of premises, including structural fire, aircraft crash, or even a terrorist attack. Personnel from every base agency act as subject matter experts on the WIT and contribute to each exercise's master scenario events list.

"The MSEL is a play by play of what is expected to happen," said Halsey. "Once it's approved, we then execute it and the WIT members observe the different participants around the base."

These WIT exercises are important to the readiness of the entire base, said Halsey.
The point of a base exercise is for every agency involved to act as if a real event is occurring, and perform accordingly.

"Incidents like these cannot be handled without a team effort," said Donnett. "I'm proud to be a part of Team Keesler and to partner with all the teams who mitigated the exercise response. It was a huge multiagency response, and it was a fairly simple incident."