In a room full of computers and ringing phones, members of the white cell team stand watching the movements of Vigilant Guard 2016 play out on the two drop screens while assessing their own tasks at hand at Northfield, Vt. July 29, 2016. The exercise playmakers work within the white cell components to carry out the tasks assigned as part of the national exercise program known as a Vigilant Guard.
July 29, 2016 - Both civilian and military agency members of the white cell team coordinate plans during Vigilant Guard 2016 in Northfield, VT. Vigilant Guard is a national level emergency response exercise, sponsored by the National Guard and NORTHCOM, which provides National Guard units an opportunity to improve cooperation and relationships with regional civilian, military, and federal partners in preparation for emergencies and catastrophic events. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Clark)
There are three main elements to the white cell. There is an overarching control cell, a higher control (HICON) and a lower control (LOCON) component comprised of various agencies. The HICON consists of state and federal agencies, nonprofit government agencies and local/regional municipalities reporting simulations and the LOCON is derived by primarily military support elements who simulate subordinate measures including additional troop support, logistics, situation reports, inputs on scenario injects and representatives from multiple military components.
"The White Cell brings the overhead higher commands from authorities, working together to provide the play input for the folks working through the exercise,” explains U.S. Army Col. Ray Bouchard, director of J7 Joint Training Exercises & Education, exercise director for white cell, Joint Force Headquarters, Vermont National Guard, “It helps control the flow, provide the guidance and the challenges for the planners that are working on the ground, the staffs, and the folks that are working at the lanes, doing the FTX (field training exercise) piece. You really have two pieces, the FTX where individual soldiers and airmen are on the ground working through the exercise, then the CPX (command post exercise) component where the staffers, the Joint Task Force and the Joint Force Headquarters are working on planning and how to bring in these outside assets to help work the disaster in support.”
Bouchard also spoke to how the white cell controls the pace and intensity of the exercise. The members keep attempting to resolve the confusion of the simulated scenarios that they inject out into the field. The idea is to positively stress the exercising components within Vigilant Guard and create a more prepared task force in the event of a real disaster of regional size.
The scenarios are processed through a Master Scenario Events List (MSEL), which are then injected throughout the exercise. Each event is specifically analyzed and handled by the white cell.
Retired Army Col. Anne Young, a key white cell agent, annotates the scenario injects.
“The MSEL which is more than 1200 (events) now and it ranges from the very smallest to the very large. It's putting in play what they need to do, and checking back to make sure they did what they needed to. It's a lot of role playing to give them a feel for real world scenario.”
Vigilant Guard is continuously evolving within each region, but the foundations and lessons learned are beneficial for future exercises. Nearly every three-and-a-half years, each state works within their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region on a Vigilant Guard. The Maine National Guard worked a recent Vigilant Guard in November 2013, where Vermont National Guard project managers began their planning for this year's exercise. The Vermont National Guard in collaboration with NORTHCOM is sponsoring Vigilant Guard 2016. They followed a series of major meeting workshops and extensive planning began 18 months ago.
Young discusses the communication and planning process along the way.
"I think it's been a tremendous learning experience for everybody involved. On the National Guard side, (it's been) getting to know more in-depth the plans and objectives of what the civilians (agencies) are looking for, and for the other state agencies to learn what we (National Guard) can and can't do. The cooperation from the beginning has been absolutely fantastic, we've been planning side-by-side.”
As a member of the Homeland Response Force, Region 1, Massachusetts National Guard, U.S. Army Capt. Shawn Baran was assessing capabilities and role playing with numbers of responders to a given inject. He explains the process as he sees it.
“Remaining Vigilant at all times, to respond to any attack. That's what we are exercising, the processes, the communications, and the who, what, where, when, and why and how to do it.... The white cell really controls that on an inject level. We make up scenarios and they push them out to the field and then we conduct an AAR (after action report), and they learn what they did wrong and how to fix it.”
As Vigilant Guard 2016 continues, there are several states shadowing the process that will soon host their own Vigilant Guard in the near future. The white cell invites each state to view the operations within each white cell component and share planning documents upon completion of the exercise. They also offer their knowledge in an open dialogue assembly after the final missions are achieved.
By U.S. Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Clark
Provided through DVIDS
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