Military Trains For Disasters In Southern Indiana
August 6, 2013 — TheStatehouseFile.com
BUTLERVILLE, Ind. – More than 5,000 service members from all branches of the United States military are at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center for the U.S. Department of Defense’s largest test of the military’s response to a disaster.
They have been there since July 31, participating in the annual Exercise Vibrant Response 13-2, a training exercise organized by San Antonio-based Army North division, that has taken place at the 1,000-acre urban training facility for six years.
During the first part of this year’s exercise, which ended Monday, service members from more than two dozen states prepared for a nuclear attack on an urban area. Specifically, they responded to a 5-ton bomb detonating on two cities – one bomb for each city – about the size of Dayton or Columbus, both located in Ohio.
Troops spent several days before the start of the exercise placing rubble and debris throughout the facility to make Muscatatuck look as close to a real disaster zone as possible. In addition to a collapsed parking garage, a rubble pile and a derailed train, first responders encountered several other complex structures, blankets with spray-painted distress messages and real fire and smoke.
Responders also had to rescue people – 180 mannequins and 200 role players – from many of the structures involved in the exercise and decontaminate them. They then had to triage and treat wounds.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, R-Ind., who visited and toured Muscatatuck on Monday, said the “level of detail” in the exercise and the facility as a whole is “breathtaking.”
“It is layers deep,” Donnelly said. “It is very strong.”
Don Manuszewski, chief of public affairs for Army North, said the military plans these kinds of exercises with so much detail and in such a large scale so that first responders can move “as quickly as we possibly can to save lives” in the aftermath of any disaster, whether natural or man-made.
“For these kinds of exercises, we always plan big,” he said. “It’s better to be prepared for what you consider the worst possible scenario than under plan or be underprepared.”
It’s important to be prepared, he said, because they are training people to “alleviate human suffering.”
“We’re trying to help people at the worst moment in their life, probably,” Manuszewski said.
And he said they are always finding ways to improve.
“It can always be better,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today – to train people but also to make sure we look for things that can make it better as a whole.”
Manuszewski said with each exercise or real-world disaster, responders learn more and federal agencies learn how to coordinate rescue efforts more effectively.
And that, Donnelly said, is the main goal of the Muscatatuck facility – to prepare troops in the most effective way possible so that “whatever could occur in our country, we’re ready to deal with it.”
“Our obligation, obviously, is to keep our nation safe, and we are,” Donnelly said. “And we will continue to do that, and we will work non-stop on that.”
Manuszewski said in past years, Army North has spent $8 million on this particular training exercise, though planners had to scale back slightly this year due to budget cuts.
Donnelly said every dollar used at Muscatatuck is used wisely, maximizing the “bang for every buck,” as several groups come to the facility for training exercise.
Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, who heads the facility’s public affairs, said the center serves as the site for five large exercises annually – like the one taking place now – and several smaller ones.
Donnelly said such a high level of usage makes the facility an “extraordinary resource for our state” – one that brings in jobs and benefits the local area economically.
“We can very, very proud of this as Hoosiers,” he said. “And know this: every American is safer because of what’s done here in Southern Indiana.”