Cascadia Rising exercise pushes Guardsmen to the brink

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
In the early morning hours of June 7, a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest, generating a tsunami as the two natural disasters combined to create a devastated blow to the region. Before nightfall, crews of highly trained first responders from the Oregon National Guard are setting up mobile treatment facilities as casualties begin to emerge in need of assistance.

Lacerations, broken bones, hypothermia and biological contamination are a few of the apparent conditions the Oregon National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), team immediately faced in this simulated catastrophe. Shock, hunger and emotional trauma pushed caretaker's resources and resolve as well.

As a training exercise, Cascadia Rising is designed to test first responders and emergency management agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest should the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) deliver a long overdue jolt to the region. In total, nearly 20,000 participates are taking part in the four-day readiness drill.

As members of Oregon CERFP, the team works with civilian authorities to respond to man-made and natural disasters.

"This is an excellent opportunity to put our skills to use and work with multiple partners," said Army Lt. Col. Mike Moffit, CERFP commander.

Training with other National Guard units serves a multitude of requirements. As local hospitals and resources would be inundated, outside partners would be needed to fill in the gaps while adding support to the teams already in place.

The Kentucky National Guard arrived to supplement the Oregon team, stepped in to augment the response and at times lead the exercise.

As the Medical Plans Operations Commander for the 123rd Airlift Wing, Lt. Col. Brian McMorrow said the Cascadia Rising exercise allowed the 123rd Airlift Wing members a chance to train with another unit.

"This was our first time to work with another CERFP team and it allowed us to both teach and learn at the same time," he said. "The first day of any exercise is often the biggest challenge but building relationships is everything in this business."

On the second day of the exercise, the Kentucky soldiers and airmen took the lead allowing the Oregon members a chance to liken different problem solutions to familiar issues.

"In a real world situation, so many activities happen at once," said McMorrow. "Shortages of supplies or being overwhelmed with high casualty numbers are variables that this training tries to take into account."

The stress on first responders also has to be factored into the training. On each day of the exercise, each member's vital signs are taken to both determine a baseline number but also to see if they are healthy enough to suit up.

"Having an established baseline allows us to monitor each other," said Capt. Derk Maniscalco, a nurse practitioner assigned to the 142nd Fighter Wing. "We can see if there is a significant issue with weight loss due to hydration after someone has been in a (chemical) suit after an hour."

As the officer in charge of patient stabilization for the Oregon CERFP, Maniscalco said everyone that suits up is tested when they come out of the suit.

"There are a number of circumstances that can eliminate someone from re-suiting," he said. "It could be the temperature or that they were in the suit too long or working really hard and lost a great deal of volume."

During the course of the exercise, other factors took their toll on the first responders. The early summer temperatures, long hours of work, and improper nutritional intake made it difficult at times to address the some of the situational complexities.

Coordinating the Oregon team's medical response, Lt. Col. Alex Charney-Cohen said multiple challenges are ongoing and can quickly become problematic.

"At times radio communication was inconsistent," he said. "How we were able to overcome these types of issues had our members trying new procedures."

With the two teams working in tandem, best practices of one unit became a learning situation for the other unit.

"These are constant situational concerns but our blended teams did extremely well supporting each other," Charney-Cohen said.

Throughout the exercise, Moffit reiterated how a disaster of this magnitude would stretch both the resources and the perseverance of every Guardsman.

"We learn something new every time we work with another unit," he said. "What is important to remember is that we will have to adapt and put best practices in place if a major disaster were to hit in our back yard."