The Shelby County Office of Preparedness invited soldiers from the 431st Civil Affairs Battalion to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on January 5 to participate in an exercise to enhance their communications skills during a disaster.
Kimberlyn Bouler, Office of Preparedness Planning Officer, created and led the scenario that is all too familiar here in Shelby County – major flooding.
She met with Ijpe DeKoe, a Sergeant First Class, to discuss the simulated event and how his company could be involved in a similar disaster and what training opportunities such a scenario could present.
The scenario: after many days of relentless rain in Shelby County, ditches filled to overflowing and streets become impassible. Creeks and tributaries slipped over their banks as more and more rain fell. Within a few days, what was a minor inconvenience of some flash flooding grew into major flooding. Areas of Shelby County, especially in the northern part of the county, in the town of Millington, were under water. The Navy Base in particular was in crisis during this disaster.
Citizens and military personnel were trapped in their homes and barracks in low lying areas as they awaited rescue. The issues at hand were “who had the resources to help with rescue and who could then house those in need?”
During this scenario, soldiers from Charlie and Delta Company, 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, were called in to assist with the operations, in particular with communications between citizens and the various local government agencies.
Their mission was “to resolve issues between citizens and government agencies….to be a liaison or go-between in effective communications” when emergencies arise or disasters strike.
Army Civil Affairs battalions are trained to find quick solutions for any situation they are faced with. At times they may need to work with translators if there are language barriers. They are attuned to keeping the peace within with cross-mission representation, with the ultimate goal of helping to restore stability to the area.
The day-long event required assigned “teams” to meet together with Bouler and get frequent updates about the pretend flood. They worked together with her at the EOC to create sound solutions for problems without the military actually taking over the operations.
After breaking for a late lunch of military-style MRE’s (meals ready to eat), all participants gathered in the EOC for a “after action review” or “AAR” to discuss what went well and what were some opportunities for improvement if this were a real disaster.
DeKoe asked his teams to stand and report “lessons learned” during the exercise. Some points mentioned from the participants after the scenario wrapped up were:
*introductions are important – get to know the players, their name and their position
*establish a knowledge base of the situation first, then collect all the information you can by asking open-ended questions of those in charge
*ask what is needed to help the crisis instead of assuming you know what is needed
*don’t promise anything you can’t deliver
*be professional in dealing with cultures you don’t agree with
Bouler, after giving her input on their performance, congratulated all the teams on their willingness to participate in this important training exercise and said that their “communications were outstanding!”