Story by MSgt John Hughel on 07/03/2018WARRENTON, Ore. The reliable summer weather along the Oregon coast provides an opportunity to prepare for the unpredictable. Annual training activities such as civil defense preparation training or exercises like Pathfinder-Minuteman bring a variety of military and first responders together to learn from recent real-world disasters.
During the recent two-day Pathfinder-Minuteman training, June 18-19, at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon, simulated post-earthquake and tsunami scenarios were implemented. The training takes into account previous years' lessons and while incorporating multi-player teams.
"We spent about six months planning with our Oregon Disaster Medical Team (ODMT) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) partners, meeting monthly for this year's [Pathfinder] exercise," said Oregon Air National Guard Capt. Kevin Lindsey, a medical plans officer with 142nd Fighter Wing Medical Group and [CBRNE] Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).
The refresher training emphasized team building, communication, best-skill practices, and safety in the field when responding to any incident, large or small.
"Camaraderie is key to how we work and to create an environment [here] where we can build small, yet effective teams," Lindsey said. "Over the course of a couple of days in the field, people get to know each other and it feels more natural to all the players."
Making those decisions in the field, first responders need to assess the risks and safely manage the changing environment. Depending on the severity of the disaster, keeping a culture of safety' in mind is a fundamental component of the training.
"If our responders get hurt or killed, then we lose our ability to respond to others; it's that simple," Lindsey said.
The teams contained a balance of military members working side-by-side with their civilian counterparts. Frequently they are organized to have a variety of skill sets in each group, to include specialist in search and rescue, medicine, and other essential personnel.
Working on her first disaster response exercise, Allison Journey, a physician assistant from Lincoln City, Oregon, integrated quickly to the changing exercise situations given to her group.
"The biggest part of all of this training is team communication," she described. "I watched other teams struggle because of communication issues, but our team has been fantastic during each phase and we have gotten a lot done."
With her full-time job in Lincoln City, a location directly charted on the coastline, the danger from of a Pacific Ocean tsunami is only one of the troubling elements that she identified.
"One of my biggest fears, especially this time of year, is the influx of tourists visiting the beaches," Journey said. "The main takeaway from all of this training will be to help build a plan at the (Good Samaritan) hospital because eventually, a disaster like this is going to happen."
Surviving a magnitude 9.0 earthquake with its combined threat of an almost certain tsunami makes responding to both disasters glaring. The Oregon coastline has its own unique geographic issues factored into any recovery effort. With the coastal Cascadia Mountain range to the immediate east, the shoreline becomes both an obstacle and entrance point for first responders.
Lessons learned in recent hurricanes along the Texas coastline and in the Caribbean Islands of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, showed that having a sustained access point along the water's edge is part of the recovery plan.
Prior to this year's Pathfinder Exercise, the situation and operational environment of the Pacific coastline were addressed during the Portland Rose Festival Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA) Senior Leadership Agenda, held June 7, at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, Oregon.
During his opening remarks welcoming other DSCA leaders in attendance, Brig. Gen. Mark Crosby, Assistant Adjutant General-Air and the commander of the Joint Domestic Operations Command for the Oregon National Guard, reiterated the necessity of seafaring operations following a Cascadia Subduction Zone disaster.
"What we've seen in the most recent hurricane that hit in Puerto Rico, and shoreline storms in Texas and Louisiana is the support from Naval and Marine assets to help respond to a crisis."
The oceans ability to support commerce and attract tourists can transform rapidly when a tsunami or substantial storm surge decimates a coast area. This kind of paradox is also replicated with the recovery operations, as the proximity of maritime assistance becomes a critical factor of aid.
"For those trapped in their communities and for first responders trying to gaining access, we can't do it without assistance from maritime resources," Crosby said.
With the likelihood of local hospitals and other urgent care centers being inundated with patients, Mercy class naval vessels like the USNS Comfort, which was dispatched to Puerto Rico, could be positioned along the Pacific Northwest shorelines.
The Rose Festival DSCA seminar brought key leaders together from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Oregon and Washington National Guard, as well as many emergency management and civilian stakeholders to share these lessons learned and best practice recommendations.
"This type of interoperability with various agencies plays a crucial role in building communication between first responders, and multiple resource providers," said James White, civil authority planner, U.S. Army North, DCE Region X.
A fundamental aspect of the DSCA leadership seminar is keeping important operational concepts in focus of engaging partners, joint training exercises, disaster support base assessments and visit, and planning for disaster response.
Between planned events such as the Senior Leadership seminar and the Pathfinder-Minuteman training, learning from each other and fostering open communication principles was a consistent common denominator with both groups.
"It's about building a plan with a solid team and a sufficient bench in place," Rear Admiral David Throop, commander, 13th Coast Guard District, said during the seminar. "That way, when it's time to move those assets, first responders can open up a pipeline, and transport those resources where they are most urgently needed."