Contact: Earl Bittner
Voice: (904) 542-6623
By Earl Bittner, NAVFAC Southeast Public Affairs Office
MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast's Contingency Engineering Response Team (CERT) responded to a simulated hurricane (Hurricane Lay) in preparation for the 2013 hurricane season, May 22.
As part of the exercise to Naval Station (NS) Mayport, the team prepares for damage that could be caused by a Category 2 storm at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola.
NS Mayport provided a perfect location for CERT and disaster assessment team (DAT) training. This annual training is part of the plan to maintain skills and readiness for both new and experienced CERT members.
"As we prepare for the 2013 Hurricane Season," said Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth L. Vargas, NAVFAC Southeast Disaster Preparedness Officer (DPO), "we (NAVFAC Southeast) conduct a CERT exercise as part of the Navy's Annual HURREX (Hurricane Exercise). We exercise command and control (C2) from a central EOC (Emergency Operations Center) at headquarters (NAS Jacksonville) and in the field (NS Mayport standing in for NAS Pensacola this year)."
NAVFAC CERTs are a key part of the overall base recovery efforts after a storm. CERTs consist of one or more DATs as well as Construction Support Teams (CSTs) to administer contingency contracts, if any. DATs are made up of personnel who enable installation facility repair efforts. The teams consist of active-duty civil engineer corps officers, civilian engineers, architects, project managers, facilities managers and contract specialists.
"The CERT is a compilation of experts and capabilities resident within NAVFAC Southeast," said Vargas. "All the Business Lines (BLs), Support Lines (SLs) and Integrated Product Teams (IPTs) provide expertise and manpower to the CERT."
Before the assembled team 'deployed' to NS Mayport, Capt. Christopher Kiwus, NAVFAC Southeast commanding officer, offered words of encouragement and focus to the CERT members.
"When you deploy, chances are you are going to a more dangerous place than most people encounter," said Kiwus. "I worry about you getting hurt. I don't worry about your vehicle or your equipment. I worry about you. Safety is the most important thing as you go about accomplishing your mission."
The entire team was vigilant over each other and functioned as they were all safety officers.
"The most important piece in this exercise is the knowledge each of you bring to the team," said Kiwus. "You all bring different expertise to the team. Learn what each of you offer and learn from each other."
The CERT utilizes high tech equipment including hand held repeater radios, GPS enabled digital cameras and a bus outfitted as a Mobile Command Post (MCP) filled with laptops, a fax machine, weather equipment and other sundries.
"We use several communications means through our MCP to relay critical damage assessment information," said Vargas. "We have satellite abilities, wireless communications, facsimile, scanning, NMCI (Navy Marine Corps Internet) and commercial internet and email capabilities."
The C2 features streamline the process of getting engineering assessment data of damage to headquarters officials allowing NAVFAC leadership to make engineering recommendations to the commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) with the end goal of getting the damaged base repaired and fully mission capable in a short period of time.
"Try to use all the equipment you are issued as a team but don't make the equipment your focus," said Kiwus. "Shake out every bit of knowledge you can, that's the benefits of an exercise, so you can use those skills at a later time and place, learning now what to do to solve a problem in advance of a real emergency. That's the capacity we want to grow."
"As CERT members," said Don Maconi, NAVFAC Southeast Contingency Engineer, "we are charged with the responsibility to support installation and combatant commanders response efforts and work to ensure the affected installation can return to normal operations as quick as possible. These tools help us complete our mission."
"This is a very select group," said Kiwus. "In our region it is not a matter of if, but when we will deploy. If there is one group in the command to send to solve a problem, you're it. This is the group I would send to solve the problem."
CERT capabilities were demonstrated as teams and were sent to Navy installations in the Gulf Coast Region after Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. Members of the team also deployed to assist with disaster assessments in Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake, and to Louisana, after Hurricane Isaac impacted there in August 2012.