CAMP SHELBY, Miss. —
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept through the entire state of Mississippi, finally decreasing to a tropical storm as it entered Tennessee. Its passing left 238 Mississippians dead, all 82 counties were officially declared disaster areas, and many coastal towns were simply obliterated.
This month, Hurricane Gordon was threatening to do it again — at least on paper.
Joint Task Force Trident, the Mississippi National Guard’s domestic response team, held an exercise June 4-8 at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center to test command and control of guardsmen deployed to assist civilian authorities managing a statewide response to a natural disaster.
“We are not in control,” said Army Brig. Gen. Stanley Budraitis, commander of JTF Trident and 66th Troop Command, the Mississippi Army National Guard unit whose elements make up a large portion of the task force’s personnel. “We get our missions from state and local authorities and we assist them with personnel and equipment as best we can.”
Army and Air National Guard elements of the task force include military police, engineers, helicopters and other personnel and equipment that can support civil authorities through a wide range of recovery operations. These capabilities include law enforcement support, debris removal, search and rescue, route reconnaissance, and point of distribution sites, among others.
Trident Shield 18 tested the task force’s abilities to stage personnel and equipment prior to the storm, respond to requests for assistance from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and other local authorities, coordinate activities with the civil agencies, and how to disengage when immediate, short-term assistance is no longer necessary.
This is a true joint multi-agency response scenario,” said Army Lt. Col. Henry Palmer, the task force’s operations officer. “We have incorporated MEMA, the Air Guard, the Mississippi State Guard, local agencies and first responders, and [U.S. Northern Command] into our exercise. This gave a very new staff a chance to work through challenges and better understand the capabilities of our agency partners and what they bring to the fight.”
The exercise also introduced JTF Trident to the Domestic Operations Awareness and Assessment Response Tool. DAART is a web-based geospatial intelligence capability designed, developed and operationalized by the National Guard Bureau Joint Intelligence Directorate in partnership with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. DAART provides both civil and military first responders the capability to process and share enhanced situational awareness information.
“What we learned about this system probably just scratched the surface of its capabilities,” Palmer said. “One of the most intriguing features that I learned was the ability to switch between ARC GIS map layers and Google Map overlays. In other words, I can update an overlay in Google Maps, then switch the view on the screen to ARC GIS and the update carries over. The system is dynamic and allows the commander the flexibility to customize the view that is important to him.”
Integrating DAART into Trident’s capabilities was an important element of the exercise, Palmer said, but it was more crucial to focus on coordination among the different entities of the task force and to plan for potential contingencies that could occur in an actual disaster response.
The practice could prove to be the difference between life and death of Mississippians when the next Hurricane Katrina hits.