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NEWS | Oct. 27, 2021

MING Task Force 46 Conducts Dense Urban Terrain Exercise in Los Angeles

By Capt. Joe Legros Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

“There is no better example of urban sprawl than Los Angeles (LA),” said Col. Chris McKinney, chief of staff for Task Force 46, Michigan Army National Guard. “The complexity of population, variety of infrastructure and distance makes for a uniquely challenging training environment for dense urban terrain (DUT) exercises and response.”

Task Force 46 provides command and control for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response elements (C2CRE-B) converging on LA for DUT training to support the assigned U.S. Northern Command homeland defense and all-hazards mission.

This joint event sees the LAPD and LA Fire Department (LAFD) playing host to Task Force 46 from October 17-22. DUT exercises take place throughout the week at Fire Station 88 in Sherman Oaks, while the Riverside Fire Department welcomes the task force to the Ben Clark Training Center in Riverside for concurrent training.

The exercise includes over 170 service members from 12 Army National Guard units and two Army Reserve units, with military police, engineering, medical, logistics and HAZMAT response capabilities. While service members are out in full force, this exercise is much more than a military training event.

In fact, military personnel train in support of civilian authorities throughout DUT LA. DoD personnel would do the same during an actual national response incident.

“The fact that so many civilian partners help coordinate and actively participate in this event demonstrates its value,” shared Commanding General of Task Force 46 Maj. Gen. Pablo Estrada. “We could not be successful without the LAFD, LAPD, the Port Authority, Office of Emergency Management and FEMA. These unique partnerships are critical to our overall success.”

DoD coordination with civilian partners is referred to as defense support of civil authorities (DSCA), which is a federally recognized collaboration. During significant natural disasters or hazardous events requiring a national response, DSCA operations usually follow suit.

DUT LA consists of a variety of events from search and rescue scenarios to an academic seminar where subject matter experts share best practices, a communications exercise and mass casualty decontamination training. One of the scenarios tested first responder reactions to a simulated domestic terror threat.

In this simulation, a viscous liquid was dispensed during a public gathering. Multiple people reported respiratory issues and a burning sensation on their skin. Local law enforcement, together with military search and rescue teams, searched for and identified victims throughout the Riverside Fire Department Ben Clark Training Center and LAFD Fire Station 88. Once identified, victims were transported to mass casualty decontamination and medical triage.

At Fire Station 88, search and rescue teams located a simulated victim, in this case a mannequin, hanging from a tower. Teams summitted the tower, then performed a rope rescue as they secured the victim and repelled downwards, transporting the patient to the decontamination lane via rolling litter.

The LAFD and LAPD shared resources in multiple ways, including the usage of a search and rescue canine. Firefighter and dog handler Jason Jasgur, assigned to the Tactical Medicine Unit and FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, assisted military teams during the training. After advising on search and rescue, Jasgur gave his canine colleague, Ruffy, a much-needed “decontamination” bath.

Jasgur said, “This has been an eye-opening experience to see the capabilities of the Task Force 46 and the interest shown in urban environment emergency response.”

He added, “This is definitely a larger scale operation and it’s great to have the military here supporting us.”

While Jasgur conducted canine decontamination, evaluation teams observed the reaction time and actions of first responders, providing guidance as necessary to increase effectiveness. Safety was always at the forefront of their minds.

“What I’m looking for is electrical connections being taped up and secured off the ground where water could collect,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Enomoto, safety non-commissioned officer in charge of decontamination for the 140th Chemical Company, a California National Guard unit currently allocated to Task Force 46. “We also look for tripping hazards as patients walk through the decontamination line. If I don’t see it and correct it, someone could get hurt. So I must be vigilant.”

One of the objectives the chemical unit Soldiers must achieve is the ability to continually process 40 ambulatory and 20 non-ambulatory patients every hour. They accomplish this through work/rest cycles which allow part of their forces to rest and get sleep or food, while the remaining Soldiers continue to work.

Another consideration is water capacity. In a hazardous event, water access could be compromised or not readily available.

“Our water supply unit has two 2000-gallon tanks,” said 2nd Lt. Austin Robertson, quartermaster officer and platoon leader for the 349th Composite Supply Company, a Task Force 46 allocated unit from the California National Guard. “One of the tanks is mounted to a truck, allowing us to attain water from another location, enabling continual supply to the decontamination lanes.”

The scenario tests the effectiveness and efficiency of military and civilian partners when presented with a hazardous emergency situation. With time being of the essence, medical triage awaited both notional mannequin patients and live participants being processed through decontamination.

Maj. Houman Vaghefi is one of the medical providers who participated in the training event. He enjoyed the opportunity to work within an interagency exercise.

“It was a pleasure working with our military colleagues from all over the country, as well as our civilian counterparts from the greater Los Angeles area,” said Vaghefi, company physician for the 738th Area Support Medical Company, an Indiana National Guard unit also allocated to Task Force 46. “This training will pay off if ever the country needs us to respond. We will be ready.”

Aside from rescue and decontamination training, leadership addressed the need for local area knowledge and sharing of best practices. To further demonstrate this point, the LAPD conducted a guided terrain walk of downtown LA for members of the LAFD, the LA Emergency Management Department, FEMA and military officials.

LAPD officer Ryan White, a retired U.S. Marine gunny sergeant and purple heart recipient, lead the terrain walk. He reiterated the importance of knowing the area of operations prior to responding to a hazardous event.

“There are so many elements to consider,” said Lt. Col. Brian Higgins, DUT exercise planner assigned to Task Force 46 and civilian partner liaison with the New York Army National Guard. “Responders can’t just look at what’s happening on the surface. There is an entire subterranean ecosystem below us with the subway system, as well as the super-surface represented by the high-rise buildings and structures. Contamination could be anywhere depending on the hazard, waterflow and air-current through these urban canyons.”

Higgins previously served as the Officer in Charge of the Dense Urban Terrain Detachment in New York City, assigned to the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG). Additionally, his experience as an NYPD Detective assigned to the Emergency Service Unit was a natural fit for Task Force 46 training in highly populated areas such as LA.

LAFD’s Fire Captain II Ted Kalnas and Lead Remote Pilot David Danielson echoed Higgins’ assessment during the DUT’s academics seminar, speaking primarily of efforts to support an emergency response from the air.

“We use drones not just for training purposes but to assist in passing tools down to rescue workers on ropes,” said Kalnas. “Unmanned aerial vehicles can also do overhead and thermal shots that show hot spots. In this way, drones can be used as a pathfinder prior to sending in first responders so they can enter facilities more safely.”

The academics seminar was jointly hosted by Task Force 46 and the 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard. As the seminar came to a close, speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of not becoming complacent with regard to the nation’s emergency preparedness.

“The next time we go to war, war will be coming to us,” said U.S. Army War College Professor Bert Tussing, Director of Homeland Defense and Security Issues. “Kinetically, cybernetically, or both, we will feel it’s impact in the homeland. Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the enemy’s attack will require extraordinary prioritization of resources which—even in the United States—will be limited. We have to begin constructing a whole-of-nation strategy, as well as the plans to support it, now.”

Maj. Gen. Pablo Estrada concluded, “Cyber adversaries and hypersonic missiles are capable of striking U.S. soil. Exercises like DUT LA help responders to be ready for these and future threats.”