October 23, 2015 --
Intermittent shifts in inclement weather conditions set the perfect backdrop for a full-scale bomb threat exercise, recently, scheduled by the Mission Assurance Branch personnel at Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island, Jacksonville, Florida.
Despite the gloom from overcast clouds and rain, MCSF-BI officials, local mutual aid partners and teams of support staff from other installations forged ahead with the activity and, as a result, received high marks from the exercise’s evaluators, Regional Exercise Team-East, Marine Corps Installations Command, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island’s installation emergency manager/CBRNE protection officer, Fred Rogers, Mission Assurance Branch, gave an overview of the day’s activity and the importance of preparedness to the overall mission.
“(My primary responsibility) revolves around mitigation — preparedness, response, recovery, making sure that all threats and hazards against the installation are mitigated,” Rogers said. “Making sure the installation is prepared for and can also recover from any incident that may happen here.
“As the CBRNE protection officer,” he continued, “I’m also responsible for anything that deals with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and enhanced (conventional weapons) as far as response and training first responders.
“Today was a (simulated) bomb threat incident,” Rogers pointed out. “The Mission Assurance Team thought about hazards that could happen aboard the installation (such as someone planting a device), and we want to make sure that we are prepared to handle that type of incident.
“From the exercise perspective, we learned a lot,” Rogers admitted. “We learned about ways we can improve our methods of communication; ways we can improve the (Emergency Operations Center); ways we can improve the actual first responders’ (reaction time) as far as communication flow was set up.”
Rogers gave his final thoughts on the outcome of the exercise, its successes as well as its shortcomings.
“Communication is definitely the key,” he emphasized. “Being able to know how to respond to certain incidents is vital to the success of the installation and for saving lives as well. The only way that we can get to that is: (1) having a plan; (2) training to that plan, and (3) exercising (the) plan.
“That was our last and final stage,” he concluded. “With all the information we have learned over the past year — building up to the exercise, training for the exercise, actually doing the exercise — now, we can implement that into our plan and make it better.”
The exercise was a part of a top-down requirement, but Col. Brian Hughes, commanding officer, Blount Island Command and MCSF-BI, conceded to self-interest in the event.
“As the installation commander, I want to make sure we have the correct media actions and communication as well as all the right agencies and functionalities involved to respond to any threat,” Hughes said.
He identified the most challenging part of the exercise was collaboration with outside agencies, but gave high accolades to each agency for their roles.
“Each supporting agency was primed, very willing and able to assist,” Hughes added.
According to the colonel, little was left to be desired from the local support. He did admit, however, a few internal gaps were identified, which he considered to be one of the best parts of the exercise.
“If everything goes smoothly, you probably did not have a really good exercise,” Hughes said. “Personnel on this installation can be assured we have the right people on the wire and they can feel safe and secure while doing their mission without having to look over their shoulders.”
After a briefing at the close of the event, Hughes deemed it a success, but revealed there will be ongoing discussions and research to improve.
Mutual aid partners and other supporters, who participated in the exercise included: the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville; Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department; Naval Station Mayport’s Navy Explosive Ordnance Deposal Technicians; Maritime Safety and Security Team Kings Bay’s Military Working Dogs; Jacksonville Port Authority; Naval Criminal Investigative Service; Duval County Emergency Operations Center; Marine Corps Installations Command’s Regional Exercise Team-East as well as Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany’s Public Affairs Specialists.