MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- On June 26 a table top exercise was held at the MCLB Conference Center entitled "Lethal Peach." A team from HQMC's Security Division and Community Research Associates led about 25 base personnel and 30 of their counterparts from surrounding communities and industries to discuss how they would deal with a WMD event aboard MCLB Albany. CRA is under contract to HQMC to assess, develop and facilitate various types of Weapons of Mass Destruction exercises for the Marine Corps.
According to Community Research Associates' literature, the purpose of the Lethal Peach Tabletop Exercise was to present the base with a mass casualty scenario to examine the effect on base operations and to review emergency response. The exercise was a major portion of the Naval Integrated Vulnerability Assessment here, conducted by HQMC Security Division personnel and CRA.
"By the end of the week, you will know your weaknesses, which areas you need to improve, which is why we're doing this," Lt. Col. Neil J. Hornung told base personnel earlier in the week. Hornung works in the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Branch of the Security Division at HQMC.
In addition to base and local government personnel, safety and security officers from local industries were also involved in the exercise.
Exercise participants divided into teams based on their areas of expertise and functions. The June 26 exercise opened with a hypothesis involving the arrest in Tallahassee of a group of people who appeared to have strong connections to a well-known terrorist group.
The next day a series of on-base events began when two Maintenance Center employees showed symptoms that appeared to be allergy related. However, within an hour, several more people went to the Branch Medical Clinic with similar symptoms, and base officials became suspicious that something other than allergies was involved.
"The first thing we would do would be to call the MITNOC [Marine Corps Information Technology Operations Center] to request an increase in our network security posture," Capt. Frederick Folson, C4 Communications Systems officer, said.
Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Combs of the recently renamed MITNOC [now Marine Corps' Network Operations and Security Command] at HQMC, explained that the network security people at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., would immediately increase the number of circuits monitoring MCLB Albany's inbound and outbound traffic in such circumstances.
"If our computer systems went down," Folson explained, "we'd be hampered in our ability to respond to a crisis."
Meanwhile, other members of the group wondered how they would know if the incident were actually a terrorist attack or if what appeared to be a chemical agent were the result of a stray crop dusting plane aided by winds shifting a certain way or some other innocuous circumstance.
"NCIS [Navy Criminal Investigative Service], through their multi-jurisdictional contacts, would determine the probability of its being a terrorist attack," 1st Lt. Neil Davies, deputy provost marshal, said.
"But how would we know if other areas of the base had been affected?" someone else asked.
"The Environmental Branch and the Risk Management Branch would determine the scope of the exposure," Dan Gillum, director of the base's Installations and Logistics Division, said.
"Would you be able to tell if we had a biological agent or a chemical agent?" Provost Marshal Maj. Vernon Graham asked Merrill Dickinson, manager of the Risk Management Office.
"We would have a pretty good idea of the possible agents involved based on intelligence reports before the time of the attack," Dickinson said. "A biological attack over such a widespread area would be difficult to identify. If it were a chemical agent we have the capability to characterize it, predict symptoms, recommend treatment to the Emergency Medical Services, and estimate its persistency."
Hornung stopped the overall discussion to break the group into teams.
"Not knowing any more than this, only that the base may be at risk, I want you to think about the primary concern of your organization and the first steps you and your people would want to take," Hornung said.
Medical personnel talked about how to treat symptomatic patients and how to handle possible contamination.
Jack Colby, MCLB Fire Chief, said the fire department, as an emergency response unit, would provide decontamination service.
"And if those affected are able to use them, you could give them a self-decontamination kit," Ed Bramble, Southwest Georgia Emergency Response Agency, said.
"We don't have any of those," Colby said.
"I think we've got about 100 of them," Bramble said. "I'll get you the information so you can order some, because they're simple to use and they can really cut down on the use of your manpower if you've got walking wounded in that kind of situation."
As the hypothetical situation progressed, other, more overt events were described that escalated the circumstances beyond the base's capabilities.
"At this point, our resources would be tapped out," Maj. Alan Schachman, base operations officer, said, "and we would have to request assistance from agencies outside the gate." Schachman was on the emergency operations center team.
In talking about how to treat 70-80 people who needed medical attention, Bramble said he would send his organization's emergency triage team to help assess who needed immediate attention and who could be transported elsewhere.
Following in-put from Albany Public Works personnel, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Palmyra Medical Centers representatives, MCLB Fire Department personnel, Branch Medical Clinic personnel, and a representative from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the CRA leader gave the group a word of advice.
"This exercise helps all of you to learn more about your military and civilian counterparts and the resources they have available," Geoff Nagler, CRA vice president said. "That's extremely important, because you need each other. You need to learn to work together and to share your resources Ð people, knowledge and equipment."
The group again divided into teams to discuss how they would coordinate the resources of each element in a disastrous situation.
Everyone in the group soon recognized the importance of coordinating their efforts and working together. As the exercise drew to a close, the CRA facilitators emphasized that their combined resources strengthened all the organizations and agencies on hand.
"Frankly, I think our biggest threat will come from Mother Nature," Col. Joseph Wingard, base commander, said as the exercise concluded. "We are all at the risk of being hit by tornados or other disastrous weather events. And the exercise you conducted today is easily applied to weather-related disasters.
"Judging from the feedback I'm getting," Wingard concluded, "I'd say we [base personnel] need to hold a field-drill involving our city and county counterparts and those in private industry who want participate within the next six months. The more we practice for this kind of thing, the better prepared we'll be if anything ever does happen."