By Staff Sgt. Mary Thach, 155th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published September 15, 2015
Lincoln, Neb. -- -- When it comes to unpredictable weather, the state of Nebraska rarely takes a backseat to anyone.
That's why, the Nebraska Air National Guard places such a significant focus on maintaining its readiness and ability to step in to help local and state communities recover when disasters do inevitably occur. Whether a community is struck by a civil disturbance, chemical spill, tornado, fire, flood or blizzard, the Nebraska Air National Guard's domestic operations team is capable of augmenting and stabilizing a situation if city, county or state resources have been overwhelmed or depleted.
The 155th Air Refueling Wing recently hosted civil leaders from around the state of Nebraska, June 6, to showcase the capabilities of the Air Guard's domestic operations emergency management and what the wing has to offer in case of an emergency.
Col. Bob Stevenson, 155th ARW commander, thanked the leaders representing Nebraska for touring the air base to see how the Airmen can assist and support the state mission and civil authorities by serving the governor and fellow citizens.
"We are going to walk you through some of our capabilities. We have never as a wing done this before, not to show it off to you, but never trained it all in the same day," said Stevenson. "The guys are getting their equipment out, they are doing checks on it, they are actually training and meeting some requirements. But at the same time we thought, 'Let's do it all in combination. Let's bring some guests out here and show what we have for them."
Senior Master Sgt. Christian Bradley, 155th Civil Engineer Squadron's Emergency Management non-commissioned officer-in-charge said it's a responsibility the organization takes extremely seriously. "When called upon, we can save lives, protect resources and provide basic life necessities... We can help people in their most vulnerable and stressful times."
Domestic operations - which is typically referred to by the acronym DOMOPS - involves the organization's ability to respond to any event in the United States and its territories, following natural disasters, civil disturbances and catastrophic incidents. According to Bradley, the Nebraska Air National Guard's capabilities are a tremendous benefit to the governor and communities throughout Nebraska.
For example, in the summer of 2011, 28 Nebraska Air National Guardsmen volunteered to monitor the Missouri River levees around north and east Omaha as the river rose to dangerous levels for months.
Nebraska Air National Guard's Airmen may not always know what mission they will perform, but they continue to raise their hand and volunteer when communities are in need. Work may range from filling sandbags to contain riverbanks, monitoring levees, disposing of military explosive ordinances or urban search and extraction. Anything the governor requests, with advice of the adjutant general, the Nebraska Air National Guard Airmen are trained, willing and able to provide, said Bradley.
Many of the Air Guard's resources are able to respond within one to two hours after the request is authorized by the governor, said Bradley. Others may take up to 24 hours to respond, if the request requires gathering numerous personnel to serve the mission at hand.
Some of the capabilities available by the NEANG DOMOPS team are: fire department, security forces, explosive ordinance disposal, civil engineers, emergency management, base decontamination and the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear enhanced response force package.
Bradley described the capabilities of every DOMOPS department at the 155th Air Refueling Wing.
The fire department not only fights fires, they have an urban search and rescue team, support hazardous material responses and employs a white water rescue team, said Bradley. The fire department supports the Lincoln Fire and Rescue and surrounding communities on a routine basis.
The fire department is not the only squadron at the Nebraska Air National Guard that routinely works with local law enforcement, either. The 155th Security Forces Squadron is available to help when the local police force is overwhelmed.
Bradley said, "Security Forces personnel can work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement officials. As in the case of the tornado that hit Hallam, they ensured property was protected when the town was evacuated and provided access control to the area. They can also assist with crowd control if a situation gets out of hand.
The 155th Civil Engineer Squadron employs the explosive ordinance disposal shop, a military version of a bomb squad that is called if military munitions are discovered in the course of other events.
"EOD responds almost weekly to the grenade that Grandpa brought back from WWII or local bomb squads finding an item that may be military ordinance," said Bradley. "Their robots and x-ray machine can be a game changer when identifying a suspicious package."
Civil engineers possess skills that are applicable both in a wartime environment and at home. These include such things as securing and rendering safe power lines and gas leaks, assessing damage to buildings and infrastructure and ensure responders are not put in harm's way during a situation requiring CE response, Bradley said.
"CE has a debris removal package to assist responders arrive safely to a scene, structures personnel along with electricians, power production, and utility craftsmen set up tents to provide shelter for survivors or responders as needed," said Bradley.
"CE also has equipment trained operators. Dump trucks, cranes, excavators and back hoes are just some of the pieces of equipment used by the CE 'Dirt boys'."
The emergency management team is trained as National Incident Management System personnel, creating a liaison between military and civilian incident responders. EM can contact the military emergency operations center to ensure accountability of military personnel and relay the needs of the military responders, according to Bradley.
EM uses a machine called TAK-PAK Ultra-Agile Mobile Command Systems, which is a briefcase-sized mobile device where an individual can flip a switch and immediately establish high-speed cellular and satellite voice and data connection to communicate effectually and efficiently between National Guard, local, state and private sector, non-government organizations, according to www.308systems.com.
"Using the TACPAK, EM can send images and plume modeling to requesting agencies over cell or satellite links. Plume modeling provides the incident commander with a plot of anticipated hazards using real time weather and hazardous material data," said Bradley. "This allows the IC to anticipate where the hazardous release will move to and where the threat is to the responders. With 13 HAZMAT technician trained personnel, EM can augment and assist local HAZMAT teams."
In the event that a chemical or hazardous material spilled on base at the Nebraska National Guard air base, the base decontamination team would be able to respond to affected personnel within one hour. The decontamination team is made up of full-time personnel trained specifically in this area, in addition to their everyday, full-time job.
The team has the capability of decontaminating 100 personnel, the full-time base population.
The decontamination team would treat individuals who were affected by hazardous material by setting up a tent where the decontamination team sends individuals through a cycle of washing chemicals off of their bodies, examined to ensure they are cleared of the chemical, and would move on to medical treatment.
Similar to the base decontamination team, the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear enhanced response force package is able to gather all gear and personnel required to set up decontamination tents on a larger scale within six hours.
The medical squadron at the 155th ARW consists of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who are able to not only decontaminate victims on base, but travel regionally to treat civilian victims affected by hazardous materials and in need of emergency medical attention. Once the decontamination and medical triage tents are set up, they are able to treat 40 ambulatory and 20 litter patients every hour for 24 hours. In the event the catastrophe is larger than one individual CERF-P team can treat, they are able to contact other units in surrounding states to extend their capabilities.
Bradley said the DOMOPS event was a success in that it allowed the unit to show its capabilities to state leaders and emergency managers from around the state.
"The (state) emergency managers are on the front line of any event that strikes their community and if they do not know what capabilities are available, they won't know to ask for it," said Bradley. "They are not going to be able to ask for it when they need it."
Members of the 155th ARW were invited to tour the DOMOPS showcase to learn more about the capabilities of the NEANG's state mission.
"Everyone knows about our federal mission, but not many were aware of how much we have to support an event that could affect them or their families and communities," said Bradley. "Except for the Fire Department and EOD, the Air National Guard has been used very little in domestic operations."
The main reason the Air Guard is underutilized in emergencies is a matter of numbers: the Nebraska Army National Guard outnumbers the Air in Nebraska four-to-one. Bradley said, another big reason the Army gets called more often is geography.
"With armories scattered around the State, it is easier to get personnel to respond from the armory that is close to the incident than it is to bring Air Guard people from Lincoln," said Bradley.
Ultimately, the DOMOPS demonstration was used to teach Nebraska leadership, Guardsmen, and emergency managers about the state mission of the National Guard and letting each organization know how the guard can help supplement and augment local resources in an emergency.