Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are a matter of “when” not “if” in Alaska. The second most powerful earthquake on record, lasting four minutes and 38 seconds, happened there 50 years ago on March 27.
On that same day this year, the Defense Logistics Agency joined emergency responders in the National Exercise Program’s Capstone Exercise 2014 to practice their response to similar disasters. The exercise is a congressionally mandated event that occurs every other year and involves the Defense Department and national, state and local agencies. It takes place in conjunction with a major exercise conducted by a combatant command and coincided this year with U.S. Northern Command’s Ardent Sentry exercise.
The event began at 2:30 p.m. Alaska Standard Time when a fictitious earthquake shook Anchorage, causing catastrophic damage that required federal response and recovery assistance. Cathleen Beck-Wood, DLA’s liaison to Alaskan Command, a subcommand of U.S. Pacific Command, reacted immediately by sending a situational report to DLA Pacific and the DLA Joint Logistics Operations Center. Within hours of the report, the JLOC sent a warning order to the agency’s field activities directing them to prepare to support relief efforts. DLA’s Initial Response Team Gold, made up of 12 employees from throughout DLA, was put on alert for possible deployment. DLA liaison officers to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joint Staff Logistics Directorate, USNORTHCOM and U.S. Transportation Command began working to understand the situation and working with organizations they support
“Just like our DLA support teams in Afghanistan and Kuwait, they have subject matter experts in everything DLA does, plus they provide liaisons to all the organizations there that we’re supporting so we can understand what their requirements are and be able to quickly meet their requirements. They also provide intelligence back to the JLOC so we can work with [DLA field activities] to position ourselves to meet those demands when they come to us formally,” said Don Bruce, the JLOC’s deputy chief for plans, exercises and readiness.
The team, led by Air Force Col. Seann Cahill, was directed to deploy the following morning. They joined other DLA personnel in Alaska and formed DLA Support Team Alaska to establish an emergency communications center and partner with such organizations as FEMA’s Region X and USNORTHCOM’s Joint Task Force Alaska. As they worked to determine what supplies were needed and where, officials at DLA Headquarters and subordinate organizations assessed the location and stock levels of water, cold-weather gear, cots, blankets, meals, fuel and other items that might be needed.
While waiting for FEMA to determine what commodities were needed, DLA proactively pre-positioned some material at DLA Disposition Services facilities at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
“Our goal was to start pushing material closer to support bases in [the continental United States] so we’d have all the essential supplies needed in Alaska available and ready when transportation became available to move them forward,” Bruce said.
Roads and other infrastructure were severely damaged in the scenario, so planners had to find alternate ways of getting supplies to victims. Ralph Laurie, DLA’s liaison to USNORTHCOM, helped get meals stored at DLA Distribution San Joaquin, Calif., transferred to Navy vessels steaming up the West Coast toward Alaska, for example.
Staying in constant contact with first responders was crucial, JLOC Acting Division Chief Gordon “Buzz” Hackett added. In addition to daily conference calls and updates coordinated between FEMA, DoD, USNORTHCOM and other agencies, DLA used an online portal for information sharing.
“DLA employees and our partners can access the portal and view our situational reports, commodity statuses and contact information there,” Hackett said, adding that the need for such an information hub was recognized following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
While DLA already has interagency agreements with FEMA and other organizations that outline standard operating procedures and processes during disaster relief, exercises such as this one help improve support in the long run.
“This is something that we participate in robustly, and we try to treat it as a real-world event as much as we can because it helps us prepare for the next Hurricane Katrina or earthquake or tsunami wherever it occurs,” Bruce said.
The exercise was the most realistic and demanding one Laurie said he has participated in during his eight years as a DLA liaison at USNORTHCOM. It was also an opportunity for DLA to show other organizations how much it can contribute.
“We’re seeing that not only can DLA respond in a decisive way, we can leverage the private sector capabilities in a way that truly changes the outcome. I’m convinced that for the first time during an exercise USNORTHCOM recognizes that a successful response is inherently a logistics one,” he said.