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Simulated storm tests preparations

Military leaders train for emergency

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POSTED: May 21, 2014 11:46 a.m.
Photo by Randy C. Murray/

Air Force 1st Lt. Rick Sadowski speaks during Stewart-Hunter emergency-response training May 14.

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Coastal Georgia residents were unaware when Tropical Storm Bruce hit Hilton Head Island on May 14.
That’s because Bruce was a fictional storm that served as the focus of emergency-response training conducted by Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield leaders.
Called Stewart Guardian 2014, the exercise was organized and run by Stewart-Hunter’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, but participation included nearly two dozen installation directorates and agencies. State and local emergency responders did not participate in the exercise.
DPTMS Deputy Director Ed Foerstel and Fort Stewart’s Emergency and Contingency Planning Officer Tony Fleeger led the exercise. Fleeger gave the initial report, briefing Col. Kevin Gregory, U.S. Army Garrison commander for Stewart-Hunter; DPTMS Director Scott Armbrister; and Foerstel about post-hurricane conditions first at Hunter and then at Stewart. He said Bruce was no longer on the Georgia coast, although wind gusts were as high as 58 mph. He said it was safe for teams to begin preliminary damage assessment.
Fleeger noted that flooding at Hunter was localized and not as bad as expected. He said, however, there were numerous power outages as well as downed trees and power lines, and some buildings were damaged. There also were reports of a tornado at Hunter, which supposedly was seen on The Weather Channel, he said.
“Hurricanes bother and scare people, but tornadoes kill people,” Armbrister said. “I want to know more about the tornado sightings.”
Air Force 1st Lt. Rick Sadowski, DPTMS weather officer, provided information about the path of the storm before and after landfall. He noted that Bruce’s path was similar to that taken by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Floyd resulted in one of the largest coastal evacuations in U.S. history.
Stewart-Hunter Public Affairs Officer Ron Elliott said the exercise included a simulated evacuation of Hunter and Stewart, in that order. He said all non-essential personnel supposedly were evacuated. Elliott was one of only two PAO officers who stayed to post updates on the installation’s Facebook page.
“After we set this up, I thought, ‘What about those people who don’t have Facebook accounts? How can they receive updated information on an emergency?’” Elliott said. “We then added an email address to the website for people who don’t use Facebook.”
Foerstel said it was time for directorates and supporting agencies to start recalling evacuated personnel. Each agency reported that all personnel were accounted for and efforts were being made to assess damage in their area of responsibility. Since part of the exercise included a test of the emergency systems’ communication, Gregory made a conference call to Hunter Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Will Bowman.
Gregory told Bowman and other agency heads that they needed to develop a priority of work. Bowman, who was controlling the air space on the East Coast, told him the Air Force was not yet flying, but it was safe for rotary-wing aircraft. He said the Coast Guard and Army National Guard were controlling the air space until the fixed-wing aircraft were flying.
“Our primary focus for the first two hours is to get our emergency aircraft in the air,” Gregory said. “Can we launch a helicopter right now?”
“Yes, sir,” Bowman told him. “I recommend approval for landfall operations ... We are preparing to receive the senior commander from Fort Stewart by UH-60.”
Throughout reports by department heads, Deputy Garrison Commander Mike Biering inserted comments on the exercise and how its scenario related to real-world situations.    
“What’s our role as a federal installation if the president declares (Coastal Georgia) a national disaster area?” Biering asked.
According to Foerstel, Fleeger and others, Stewart-Hunter’s role in a national disaster depends on where the disaster occurs. They said if this area gets hit, Stewart-Hunter would not be a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 

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