National FEMA reps make stop at Robins

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Urban search-and-rescue teams from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance made a stop at Robins for the first time March 24.

The two teams, Virginia Task Force One and California Task Force Two, were in town for weeklong exercises at the Guardian Centers in Perry. But first they checked in at the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron's Passenger Terminal in Bldg. 127 to simulate a deployment in-country processing line prior to providing humanitarian assistance in the field.

"For the first time, Robins Air Force Base had the opportunity to train side-by-side with a Federal Emergency Management Agency team and USAID. This exercise showcased our Airmen's ability to partner with a national disaster response FEMA team and support a receptions and departure center in a time of critical need for Middle Georgia," said Maj. Jeremy Pankoski, 78th LRS commander. "We were also able to provide critical training and realism for FEMA and USAID by simulating an overseas disaster area airfield arrival," he said.

Each USAR team member passed through several checkpoints staffed by Robins personnel, taking several minutes to ensure all proper paperwork - such as passports - were in order, medications documented and other proper protocols were followed.

"This was the first time OFDA and FEMA put together an international team with domestic teams while responding together," said Michael Reilly with USAID. "We perform drills all the time, but this is the first time we've done something of this magnitude and certainly with a private corporation like the Guardian Centers. That site has really replicated some of the big challenges we've had in our 25 years of doing this business."

The Perry facilities enabled the several hundred members to perform drills on building collapses for example, as well as metro, tunnels and water search and rescue capabilities, said Reilly.

"Robins is our point of entry into the 'country,'" said Reilly. "They are playing a crucial role as far as scanning to ensure we have the proper credentials to even operate inside a foreign country."

The USAR teams are tasked to respond to worldwide humanitarian crises, including earthquakes, tsunamis, drought and conflict when needed. In addition to teams who deploy overseas, there are 28 FEMA teams in place for national response within the U.S.

As part of this week's exercises, urban team evaluators and site control teams from Maryland and Arizona were present, along with FEMA evaluators and representatives from the United Kingdom, Australia and United Arab Emirates on hand to observe scenarios.

Typically, these exercises can last anywhere from seven to 14 days. Each rescue worker is completely self-sufficient for 72 hours before re-supplying, and armed with heavy backpacks containing sleeping bags, clothing, food, first-aid kits, lights, knee and elbow pads, respirators, helmets, etc.

Experts who took part in this week's exercises included firefighters from Virginia's Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and California's Los Angeles County Fire Department. Teams travelling overseas in response to rescue efforts also include medical specialists, rescue specialists, structural engineers, and technical personnel who have specialized equipment and canines who perform searches for live victims.

Once teams completed in-processing at Robins, they boarded several buses to Perry to undergo various training scenarios at the Guardian Centers.

The 800-plus acre complex, located minutes from I-75 in Houston County, provides a single site to test plans, people and equipment, while simulating disasters on any scale.

Since 2008, USAID's OFDA teams have responded to such disasters as the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and many other emergencies that span the globe.