By MC1 John Parker, NAVFAC Southeast Public Affairs
Jacksonville, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast participated in the Navy's annual Hurricane Exercise/Citadel Gale 2015 (HURREX/CG-15), conducted from April 20th through May 1st in preparation for the upcoming 2015 hurricane season.
This important exercise simulated hurricanes impacting Navy installations located in the Southeast's area of responsibility (AOR). NAVFAC Southeast's participation included the simulated manning, equipping and deployment of a Contingency Engineering Response Team (CERT) to an installation requiring assistance following a hurricane strike.
HURREX/CG-15 allowed a CERT from NAVFAC Southeast to practice techniques essential to bringing affected installations back to fully mission capable (FMC) operational status.
"This is the one opportunity where all of our departments can rehearse how we respond to support an affected naval base in our AOR," said Lt. Cmdr. Ken Vargas, NAVFAC Southeast Disaster Preparedness Officer. "Everyone has a piece of that pie and every one should participate as much as possible."
This two week long exercise encompassed many different types of training scenarios that allowed the NAVFAC Southeast CERT to practice different stages of their deployment cycle, from formation to deployment to disembarkment. A predetermined timeline followed the path of simulated storms from formation to landfall, which the CERT used to train following a realistic schedule.
During the beginning stages of HURREX/CG-15, installations focused on setting necessary warnings and notifications for on-base personnel. During this period, NAVFAC Southeast worked to ensure all equipment, supplies and vehicles were ready for deployment to affected installations after the storms passed.
This year's scenario involved a major hurricane hypothetically hitting Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, an area that has had its fair share of damage from named storms in the past.
This installation was notionally evacuated prior to the storm's arrival, so that only mission critical personnel remained. The Regional Operation Center (ROC) at Navy Region Southeast made a simulated request for support to the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) at NAVFAC Southeast for a CERT to help aide the base's Public Works Department (PWD) in assessing damage done by the storm.
CERTs consist of one or more Damage Assessment Teams (DAT) with typically four members each, along with Construction Support Teams, Contingency Contracting Officers and Public Works Support Teams. The teams consist of active-duty civil engineer corps officers, civilian engineers, architects, construction managers, engineering technicians, contract specialists, and public works utility specialists.
"For the exercise, we paired at least one experienced person (who has previously participated) with three inexperienced volunteers to train as many people as possible," said Emil Handzel, DAT team leader.
"The exercise is most important because you can't get the feel for doing the damage assessment without actually doing it in an exercise. We can talk about it, but there is no substitute for actually arriving on a site, looking at damage you haven't seen before and then quickly doing the assessment and then having the experience of using the professional judgment on what needs to be done for either repair or replacement and then conveying the information back to the cost estimators so it can accurately be estimated for funding," explained Handzel.
The DATs are responsible for rapidly assessing damage, reporting damage by facility to engineer cost estimators back at NAVFAC Southeast in Jacksonville Fla., determining the safety of each facility for personnel access and usage, and clearly posting that facility safety status via brightly-colored placards of red (unsafe to enter), yellow (enter only under specific conditions) and green (safe to enter).
"These reports help the base commander know which structures are safe for personnel to enter," said Handzel. "They also set a priority level on which ones need to be repaired first in order to bring the base back to full mission capability."
The DATs deploy with the necessary technological equipment in order to complete their mission. Their kits contain Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, satellite communication equipment, and electronic laser range finders, along with other electronic devices.
"Previous deployments have allowed us to refine the CERT equipment requirements for not only documenting the damage, but staying in communication and transmitting the information back to the NAVFAC EOC," said Handzel. "The equipment is very simple, but due to deploying when there is the possibility that nothing will be available to you when you arrive, it requires you to think through everything you will need once you get there."
"We have, by the grace of our location (hurricane alley), the best and most prepared CERT in the entire NAVFAC enterprise," said Vargas who has led this team since 2012.
NAVFAC damage assessment and contingency repair capabilities have been demonstrated as CERTs were sent to Navy installations in the Gulf Coast Region after Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Isaac. Members of the team also deployed to assist with disaster assessments in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and most recently following the torrential rainstorms that caused significant erosion damage to airfield pavements at NAS Pensacola and Whiting Field in April-May 2014.