Colorado National Guard joins local forces for winter emergency preparedness exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
Thirty one local and state agencies, departments and organizations participated in a state-wide joint exercise simulating emergency response, search and rescue, and recovery processes during a major winter blizzard.

The exercise, named Deep Freeze '16, was part of a state-wide effort to evaluate and improve tactics, response time and coordination during a winter blizzard emergency.   The training operation involved simulated portrayal of stranded motorists and other real world scenarios that would overwhelm available assets in the event of a crippling winter storm. 

First responders and emergency management teams, to include the Colorado National Guard, worked together to identify the location of stranded motorists and coordinate efforts to get them to a shelter or hospital, which were also set up as part of the exercise.

"This is a great opportunity to coordinate resources and capitalize on the strength of different agencies in order to provide a unified response," said Capt. Warren Wade, 240th Civil Engineer Flight, liaison officer for Joint Force Headquarters Colorado.

The objective for the exercise was to simulate unified command with anticipated demands and force coordination decisions as would be encountered during a significant blizzard.  To emulate a real world environment, El Paso County North Group established an Incident Command Post at Black Forest Fire/Rescue to function as the unified command location.  Emergency Operation Centers were setup at designated locations throughout El Paso County to process and track requests for additional resources as mass demands outweighed available resources. 

"Involving the National Guard is really important because the community is very supportive of the military and the military wants to return that support in any means they can," said Wade.  "As military members, we naturally want to help and this provides a means for us to provide additional support needed by local authorities.  We have a lot of assets and resources that can enhance the response time and effectiveness and we are eager to provide those as needed," he said.

The civilian emergency response agencies agreed. "The cooperation and coordination, to include the National Guard, for this event has been amazing," said Bryan Jack, fire chief, Black Forest Fire/Rescue.  "Everything in the Incident Command Post is running very smoothly and I anticipate it is the same out in the field."  

Jack has worked with the National Guard on several occasions in the past, yet with this exercise, he noticed the cooperation between the organizations growing even stronger.

"The National Guard is already a structured unit that is trained and has an identified specific capability," Jack said.  "Our interactions in the past have been primarily in the field, for example during the wildfires, but the opportunity to have National Guard representation in our Incident Command Post has been critical to me and my team to see how the National Guard can be integrated into our incident command structure."

Because of this, the National Guard may be quicker to get involved in future emergency situations, potentially preventing or reducing further harm to people and property. 

"Through the understanding we have gained from this exercise and the planning leading up to it, we would be more inclined to expedite our requests for National Guard resources versus waiting as long as we may have in the past," said Jack.