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Yuma Desert Impact exercise preps station for worst

By Pfc. Sean Dennison | | February 17, 2011

Few ask themselves what they would do during a terrorist attack at an air show, but more than 400 Marines, sailors and civilians got to answer that question during a simulated exercise here Feb. 14, 2011.

Exercise Desert Impact forced station units to collaborate with local and federal agencies in reaction to a terrorist shooting down an F/A-18 Hornet into a crowd of spectators during the station’s annual air show.

The expansive exercise, among the largest the station’s ever held, saw station personnel forming an emergency operations center and communicating with civilian sectors such as the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Homeland Security to assess the situation and follow through with the proper course of actions.

“The event gave us an opportunity to test our emergency response and reaction plans,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Frank, station executive officer and exercise director. “Those that participated got an opportunity to test their abilities in their required roles.”

“Even bystanders got the benefit of knowing the station is doing everything it can to protect them,” he added.

The bulk of the exercise took place on the station’s flight line, while other elements of the scenario were located at the Cannon Air Defense Complex and around the air station.

Immediately after the the station fire department put out the simulated fire, dozens of role players with injuries ranging from concussions to missing limbs wandered the flight line while medical responders provided assistance. The most grievously injured victims were evacuated by helicopter to the Yuma Regional Medical Center.

During the events at the flight line, other participants worked to detain and locate the terrorist suspects, just as they would in real life.

An exercise such as this allows station personnel to enhance communication not just with each other, but also with outside sectors, whose vital support is considered paramount in the scenario the exercise simulated.

“The bulk of relationships we’re building on the local and federal level are beneficial on many levels,” said Frank. “We need to know who our counterparts are.”

“You need to have some sort of functional plan, so if one of these situations arises, we’re not blindsided,” said Sgt. Isaac Rosario, provost marshal’s office patrol supervisor.

Red Cross and Salvation Army also contributed their own unique services during the exercises, providing both the wounded and emergency operations personnel with food and counseling.

“It felt wonderful to be out here on base, working with the military,” said Paula Susmark, emergency operations supervisor with the Grand Canyon chapter of the Red Cross.

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