Ky. Guard stands up Joint Air Operations Center for earthquake exercise
By Capt. John T. Stamm, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 17, 2011
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky National Guard stood up a Joint Air Operations Center here May 16 to serve as the main command node for all of the state's fixed-wing and rotary aircraft that are participating in the largest earthquake-response exercise in U.S. history.
The weeklong event, called National Level Exercise 2011, is designed to test the local, state and national response to a simulated earthquake along the New Madrid Fault. It includes participation from emergency responders in eight central states, the National Guard and multiple federal entities like the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Kentucky's Joint Air Operations Center, or JAOC, is supporting the exercise by prioritizing and allocating air assets for missions into affected areas across the Commonwealth, transporting personnel and equipment, and providing aeromedical evacuation and search-and-rescue capabilities as appropriate, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, who commands the JAOC and is Kentucky's Joint Forces Air Component Commander.
"Yesterday, we were alerted to the simulated earthquake, reported for duty, set up our facility here, checked our communication lines, and made sure our plans were in place to receive taskings and then allocate missions to either C-130 cargo planes, Blackhawk helicopters or whatever air assets we might have," he said. "The initial focus was on search and rescue, so our job was to get teams from different parts of the state into the affected areas - primarily the 24 Western Kentucky counties deemed most at risk from a New Madrid earthquake."
The Kentucky Guard also performed airfield assessments May 16, flying a joint team of Air and Army National Guardsmen to airports across the state, where they conducted tests and surveys to determine which runways were undamaged by the earthquake and could support humanitarian airlift operations if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing is heavily engaged in supporting the exercise at the national level. The unit is expected to deploy three C-130 aircraft May 17 to transport aeromedical evacuation teams from Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and Scott Air Force, Ill., to Springfield-Branson National Airport in Springfield, Mo. There, more than 40 members of the 123rd Airlift Wing's Contingency Response Element have set up an air hub to receive relief supplies and evacuate injured citizens to hospitals as far away as Iowa and Louisiana, said Lt. Col. David Mounkes, CRE commander. The aeromedical evacuation flights will take place aboard Kentucky Air Guard C-130s as directed by U.S. Transportation Command.
While the exercise is designed to assess response and recovery capabilities both nationally and regionally, Kentucky will use this week's events to update and augment the Commonwealth Earthquake Response Plan, General Kraus said.
Col. Steve Bullard, vice commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, said the exercise also provides a valuable opportunity to work with scores of government agencies and civil authorities, so officials will know how to interact effectively in the event of a real emergency.
"The whole point of this exercise is to bring us together, to help us learn how to best work together to serve the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States," he said.