By Edwin Wriston
Members of the West Virginia National Guard and the West Virginia Emergency Management Division hosted more than 60 participants at the West Virginia Training and Conference Center in Julian, West Virginia, May 19-21, 2021, for a final planning meeting for Vigilant Guard, a national, full-scale exercise to be held in West Virginia later this summer.
Vigilant Guard is an annual all-hazards exercise sponsored by United States Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Military, government agencies, private sector partners and others will work in a joint operational environment simulating a large-scale emergency or disaster.
The multi-day event will bring more than 1,000 participants from as far away as Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois to train together through multiple scenarios and at various locations in the Mountain State in late August.
“We are incredibly excited to be hosting Vigilant Guard in 2021,” said Adjutant General Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Crane. “The sheer size and scope of the exercise will provide economic impact to West Virginia and will help solidify the Mountain State as a premier training location for active duty, reserve, and National Guard units, as well as civilian and private sector responder and response agencies. Governor Justice continues to prioritize using our beautiful state to be a training destination for our military and civilian partners to both help provide local economic opportunity, as well as support the Guard’s domestic national security mission. Hosting Vigilant Guard is a perfect example of that vision and effort.”
The Vigilant Guard scenario for 2021 will center around a stalled hurricane hovering over West Virginia, dropping massive amounts of water. Participants will have to address flash flooding, mudslides and potential dam breaches that lead to road closures, evacuations and aerial and swift water boat rescues of people and animals.
Hazardous materials accident response will also be part of the scenario, including mock train derailments, tanker truck wrecks, gas line ruptures, explosions, and fires.
“EMD is excited to help co-host this massive exercise with the Guard,” said GE McCabe, director of the WVEMD. “This planning session assists in successfully uniting federal, state and local emergency response partners to assure our staff is properly trained, because in real life situations we fight like we train. This training helps us refine processes to make sure we are prepared when we are most needed to support our local emergency managers.”
Primary operations for the exercise will take place in Clay, Nicholas, Fayette, and Kanawha counties, with additional state and local agencies from throughout West Virginia participating virtually or through asset and resource deployment to the exercise area.
During the meeting, planners broke into different workgroups responsible for separate segments of the exercise’s operations. These workgroups worked through scenarios and exercise injects to provide participants with challenging yet realistic training evolutions. Once those smaller workgroups solidified their portions of the events, the full group came back together to work through any scheduling or operational issues that were identified, and to lock down final plans and schedules.
“With so many different moving parts to an exercise of this scale, it is imperative that the logistics, scheduling, and operational opportunities and challenges be identified and hammered out now to meet the needs and requirements of all the various entities involved,” stated Dr. Matthew Blackwood, WVEMD Lead Planner for Vigilant Guard. “Making sure each participant comes away from the exercise with valuable training and experience that will benefit both them and their agency or organization is crucial to a successful event.”
“The efforts by all those involved in the final planning meeting process to come together and work collectively to build the timelines and scenarios that exercise players will face, from our partners at USNORTHCOM, to our state agency partners, to our local first responder agency partners, has been tremendous,” said Maj. Caroline Muriama, Vigilant Guard project officer. “We came away from these last few days invigorated and energized, and we can’t wait until August to show off West Virginia to all our visitors and to see the fruition of all our hard work!”
In June, lead planners for the exercise will meet once more to finalize general and specific objectives, and fully build the scenario trigger points and injects to drive exercise timelines and response requirements for the various agencies involved. That meeting will be the final planning effort prior to exercise play in late August.
Vigilant Guard is held in a different FEMA region each year. West Virginia is hosting the event in 2021 for FEMA Region III, which also includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Recent Vigilant Guard exercises have been held in Massachusetts, Georgia, Guam, and New Mexico. This is the first time West Virginia has been selected to host the exercise.