Making history: Ohio prepares for its largest Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise ever
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Chad Menegay, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
COLUMBUS, Ohio (07/25/19)
The Ohio National Guard and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency will host the largest disaster and emergency response exercise in state history, Aug. 5-8, at more than 10 locations throughout the state.
Vigilant Guard 2019, a 3,000-person, national-level exercise cosponsored by U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, will test the state’s response capabilities with a simulated cyberattack that causes mock utility failures and disruptions.
“I see Vigilant Guard as our responsibility to the citizens of Ohio; it puts us in the field in situations we can’t replicate anywhere else,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “It will exercise the systems and validate our ability to respond in a way that saves lives and protects the citizens of this state because that is our charge, and we’ll never fail at that.”
Civilian, state and federal entities will also be tested on their emergency response to a natural disaster, hazardous material accidents, civil disturbances and radiological incidents. VG19-4 will have civilian volunteers acting as mock accident victims. Emergency responders will exercise search and rescue, medical trauma treatment and first aid application.
The Ohio Fire Academy, one of the more than 10 sites participating, has been used to test over 600,000 first responders and will host a scenario that features a train derailment and chemical spill.
“The Ohio Fire Academy and State Fire Marshal’s office offers a very unique facility,” said Scott Walker, Ohio Fire Academy deputy superintendent. “We have about 110 acres, with about 60 acres dedicated to training space. We can conduct a lot of live fires; we can have explosions. We’ve got a number of training props like a railcar that offer first responders a unique opportunity to work with equipment or devices that they would typically have in the field.”
One objective of VG19-4 is to expand and strengthen first responder partnerships among numerous entities, through communication, coordination and integration.
“Vigilant Guard not only allows the state of Ohio to practice emergency response plans and procedures that don’t normally get exercised, but it fortifies the working relationship we have with our local, state and federal partners,” said Sima Merick, Ohio Emergency Management Agency executive director. “The exercise will exhaust our state’s resources, but Ohio stands ready to initiate aid through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and federal resources.”
The public may notice a heavier than usual presence of military personnel, aircraft and equipment, first responders and emergency vehicles during the timeframe of the exercise.
“I think as a citizen, I would be most pleased to understand that we try to make this a stressful environment for several days,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Rhoades, the Vigilant Guard 2019 exercise director, who also serves as the commander of the Ohio Army National Guard’s Special Troops Command (Provisional). “I think the citizens of this state need to understand this is (one of) the largest Vigilant Guard exercise(s) that’s ever been done in the country, and we really try to be quite unique in the way that we test each other in some of the scenarios that we’ve designed. I think it’s a really good opportunity to let the public know that these systems are tested, these organizations are tested and they’re stronger because of it.”