Prepared for the worst - IMAs play vital role in disaster resposne

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  • By HQ RIO Public Affairs
"Exercise, Exercise, Exercise! Attention in the TOC! A 10-kiloton nuclear device has detonated at ground level in Indianapolis, Indiana," came the report from the loud-speaker, July 21. Early reports poured in, indicating a staggering 100,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries.

The second half of Exercise Vibrant Response 2014 was underway.

When scenarios like this play out, some picture emergency responders, like the fire department and National Guard, taking the lead on response efforts; others may think of the Department of Homeland Security or the Federal Emergency Management Agency; few would think of Individual Mobilization Augmentees.

However, a group of 90 IMAs, assigned to 1st Air Force's National Security Emergency Protection Directorate, Tyndall AFB, Florida, play a vital role in these terrible events. This team of emergency preparedness liaison officers is tasked with coordinating civilian requests for military support during crisis.

Exercise Vibrant Response, which included about 5,500 civilian and military members, is the nation's premier disaster response exercise, designed to teach response elements how to work together during disasters on the home front. The two-and-a-half week training, which ended Aug. 7, involved members from the Department of Defense, FEMA, local and state agencies, and five EPLOs.

Colonels Ahmed Beermann-Ahmed, Michael Buoniconti, Robert Kownacky, Edward Miller and Scott Reed were called in for the massive exercise and tasked with supporting the FEMA Region I Defense Coordinating Officer. The DCO, an active-duty U.S. Army colonel, provides the primary link between the lead federal agency and Northern Command. The EPLOs support the DCO by advising local agencies on how to refine their requests for military support. They also help coordinate and fine-tune those requests, which will then be filled by the joint staff, through Northern Command.

"The EPLOs who supported this exercise represent close to 150 years of Air Force experience," said Miller. "From aviation operations to mission support functions, they represent front-line subject matter expertise on our capabilities at the point of need."

Four of the colonels worked out of the DCO building and acted as liaisons between the state and military agencies participating in the exercise. The organizers created a realistic scenario and this allowed us to work in an atmosphere similar to the real world, said Reed, who was in charge of requests for aviation support.

Like Reed, each EPLO filled a particular niche, with Buoniconti covering medical and Kownacky coordinating chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear response requests. Beerman-Ahmed, who worked in a separate location, filled the role of the Indiana-level EPLO, and Miller, who was the most experienced of the group, was the team chief and provided training to the other four.

"We are all honored to serve the American people directly, should their hour of need arise," said Buoniconti.

Kownacky echoed those sentiments by saying, "It's comforting to know that our Airmen are trained and ready to support contingencies both here at home as well as abroad."