The 812th Civil Engineering Squadron’s quarterly exercise kicked-off June 4 in North Base at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with a goal to increase interoperability and to hone emergency response capabilities between the three flights of CES: Ordnance Disposal, Fire Department and Emergency Management.
The scenario was set on a dirt road during a notional wartime deployment and the entry control point at the friendly-forces compound had witnessed military-aged males unloading suspicious packages.
During the process of investigating the situation, the team received further intelligence reports that there were chemical weapons at the site—an improvised rocket that contained sarin gas.
The 812th CES’s three flights must work together as a team to diffuse the situation.
“The whole point of our exercise is to get the entire squadron involved,” said Technical Sgt. Monica D. Balcsik, noncommissioned officer in-charge, EOD training, 812th CES. “The fire department cordons the area, EOD handles the rocket, and the chemical portion is for our emergency management team. So it’s going to be up to them to work together and figure out how to solve this problem.”
Interoperability does not start at the exercise. Planning and building the exercise involved members from each flight. Representatives from each section met and came up with a scenario that was beneficial to all.
In this scenario, Balcsik led the charge, along with proctors from other sections, to draft, staff and publish the exercise scenario.
“So by running this exercise we’re learning a lot more about what all the other teams can offer in the hopes that when we have a real-life situation, we’ll be a lot more efficient and be able to work together more effectively,” said Balcsik.
The second goal of the exercise was to bring the future faster. For the first time, CES used a small Unmanned Aircraft System in a CE interoperability exercise.
According to Maj. Adam W. Burwinkle, commander, 812th CES, the sUAS drastically enhanced interoperability and efficiency.
“The primary goal of the exercise was to deal with chemical and hazmat weapons; but the drone employment, as we move on our line-of-effort to bring the future faster, nested perfectly with that,” said Burwinkle. “We still could have done this without the drone. We just did it better with it. Furthering sUAS usage at Edwards Air Force Base and its employment with combat support is one of my goals.”
Another positive aspect of incorporating the sUAS is that the fire department was able to get an image of the threat to EOD and they were able identify in a general sense the type of ammunition and best way to mitigate the threat.
“Within 10 minutes of being on scene, we had the sUAS in the air, and we were able to put eyes on the item to identify where and what it was. We’re able to identify the coordinates,” said Ronald Watson, division chief, 812th CES and IC for the exercise. “The easy direction into the scene, from the incident command point, was the best thing for us because normally 45 minutes-in is when we start making entry to see what we were dealing with.”
Although the fire department has used drones during some operations, this is their first implementation during an exercise, and Alan Leckie, lead firefighter, 812th CES, piloted the sUAS.
“Most of the time you’d have to send someone in into harm’s way,” said Leckie. “When we send this drone, we can get a greater-scale picture of where a threat might be located, we could get GPS coordinates, and we could do it safely, while the IC can visualize what we’re seeing first-person.”
In a similar scenario, the incident commander would have to talk over a radio with someone who is at the incident to report what they are seeing. The sUAS allows the IC to capture information in real-time.
“You see instantaneous communication everywhere and situational awareness is radically improved; that’s a huge leap forward,” said Burwinkle. “Over the last few years, our adversaries have routinely employed radio-detonated IEDs so a use of a radio can be a threat to operations. Here, we are able to employ a drone at a distance that does not potentially interact with another device. It’s game changing.”