Air Force Auxiliary begins joint national exercise to text earthquake response plan

Published: May. 16, 2011 at 7:13 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT - Operation "Ardent Sentry", a major homeland security and disaster response exercise that will test emergency responders' ability to handle a massive earthquake in America's Midwest, along the seismic-sensitive New Madrid fault.

"CAP is a nationwide organization with a tremendous amount of resources it can provide to the nation in a disaster, no matter how large," said Col. James Rushing, CAP's Southeast Region commander, who is the senior agency liaison for this year's four-day exercise, coordinating CAP operations with other agencies. He performed a similar role during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The Air Force Auxiliary has a nationwide communications network of high frequency and very high frequency interoperable radios for Ardent Sentry, which will involve emergency responders in six states testing the National New Madrid Fault Response Plan.

"These communications assets are ideal on a disaster scenario like an earthquake or hurricane because they are infrastructure-independent, which means they do not rely on cell towers or a satellite network that can easily get overloaded," said Rushing.

CAP's primary role in Ardent Sentry will be providing aerial reconnaissance for photography and assessment of damage and conditions on the ground.

"To work through a scenario like this gives us a better feel for what we really need to do when the real event happens," Rushing said. Exercises like Ardent Sentry help responders work out any kinks before major disasters. Lessons learned from last year's Gulf oil spill response efforts were implemented in this exercise and other emergency response plans, Rushing noted.

"The Air Force Auxiliary operates a fleet 550 aircraft based in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico" said Lt. Keith Clapp, Mission Public Affairs Officer for the Kentucky Wing Operation. "We have deployed a number of aircraft from six wings, including nine planes from the Kentucky Wing to support this exercise" said Clapp. This exercise has been planned for many months, well before recent tragic events in Japan.

"You can't help but think about the people there and what they must be going through" said Clapp. "It really punctuates the need for an exercise of this nature. It is vitally important for governments to be prepared for an event such as this".

Equally important is individual and family preparedness. Every family should consider a 72 hour plan to include basic food and water for each member of the home in the event of a catastrophic disaster. "

For example, Kentucky Wing aircrews were recently involved in the response to massive flooding in western Kentucky where we saw entire communities surrounded by miles of water with no way in or out" Clapp said.

Though not typically associated with major earthquakes, the New Madrid fault is home to one of the nation's more active seismic zones, stretching 150 miles across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Earthquakes there can also affect Mississippi and Indiana.

The region's last massive quakes, ranging from magnitude 7.0 to 8.6, hit in 1811 and 1812 and literally created new geographical features in the region. But on the 200th anniversary of those quakes, the concern is that the area along the New Madrid fault, now far more populated and developed, may be unprepared.

Though similar exercises have been conducted for the last two decades to prepare for any repeat of the 1811-1812 New Madrid quakes, new concepts and technologies are constantly emerging and must be factored into recovery efforts and operations. This time, aerial photography systems like CAP's Airborne Digital Imaging System (ADIS), Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance (ARCHER), as well as full-motion video provided by the organization's new Geospatial Information Interoperability Exploitation Portable (GIIEP) Go-Kits, will be used for damage assessment.

The exercise will include personnel from many federal, state and local agencies, representing a variety of disciplines including disaster preparedness, disaster relief, national security, and emergency response such as police, fire and, EMS.

Great Lakes Region Kentucky Wing Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 60,000 members nationwide. CAP performs 95 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 113 lives in fiscal year 2010. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 22,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 69 years. For more information, visit