Nome prepares for Arctic Chinook drill
During last week’s regular Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting, the upcoming operation Arctic Chinook dominated the discussion.
As planning details emerged over the last months, it became clear to first responders in Nome that the focus of the exercise will be testing Kotzebue. “This is a staged event,” said LEPC chair Tom Vaden. “This will be a good lesson to see what resources we have available regionally.”
The City of Nome plans a tabletop exercise, to coincide with the drill that is slated to happen between August 22 and 26, in Tin City, Kotzebue and Nome.
So, what is Arctic Chinook?
“The U.S. Coast Guard District 17 and Alaskan Command will conduct a major exercise focused on multinational Search and Rescue readiness to respond to a mass rescue operation requirement in the Arctic in August 2016,” described Capt. Anastasia Wasem with the Alaskan Command in a separate interview with the Nome Nugget.
She said that the Arctic is an emerging region “where we will be called upon to support other federal agencies and work with our regional partners to safeguard the stability and security of the region. A mass rescue operation scenario will enable us to refine and test our communication and capabilities. It will also assist with identifying challenges associated with operating in a remote region with limited infrastructure and resources.”
Effective communication and coordinating is always a challenge. During the LEPC meeting, City Manager Tom Moran noted that NSHC has been mute to requests to participate in the exercise, however, a NSHC representative clarified that NSHC is also planning a tabletop exercise on August 24.
Tom Vaden explained how the drill planners have first approached Nome. “We were told that there would be 60 “injured” people coming to Nome for the exercise, we ran the numbers and told them it the package would cost them $500,000,” Vaden said. The package that Vaden referred to consists of plans in place and their execution within the region that include services from Norton Sound Health Corporation, the City of Nome, NSEDC and Bering Air.
The planners declined. The next scenario was that Nome was to come up with 60 “victims” on its own to provide “bodies” for the mass sheltering exercise. Since the exercise is slated for the first week of schools back in session, it was unrealistic that Nome could supply 60 people.
In its most current form, Nome’s role in the exercise is as a passenger reception and command site and that Nome would conduct a table top exercise of a mass medical surge.
Capt. Wasem explained, “The basic exercise scenario consists of an adventure-class cruise ship with approximately 250 passengers and crew (simulated) that experiences an incident which degrades to become a catastrophic event. The result is a need to abandon ship with a mix of critical, serious and minor injuries. Tin City Long Range Radar Site will act as the initial remote site, Nome will act as the passenger reception site and Kotzebue will be the patient reception site.”
Tin City Long Range Radar Site is the initial remote site, meaning the rescued people will first land there.
As the search and rescue teams save “victims” of the simulated cruise ship incident near the coast they may be taken to Tin City LRRS before further transport. Kotzebue will act as the patient reception site and the base of operations for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Wasem described.
“This is the point where the exercise becomes less focused on the search and rescue aspect and turns into a state operation. DHSS will provide augmentation to the local clinic as it becomes overwhelmed with patients; simulated of course,” she wrote.
According to Wasem, Nome has the command post portion of the exercise. “Residents of Nome can expect to see additional helicopters in the area such as the HH-60, UH-60 and Canadian CH-149. The assets in Nome will support the SAR efforts at Tin City,” she said.
It just so coincides that the biggest luxury cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, will visit Nome on August 21 for the day and is scheduled to depart that evening.
On August 22, all assets of Arctic Chinook that are not already in place, will begin departing for their designated locations. On the following two days, most of the SAR, medical evacuation and support operations will take place around JBER, Tin City, Nome and Kotzebue.
During the LEPC meeting, Moran said that some details cannot be disclosed regarding the exercise. LEPC member Paul Kosto added that there probably would be some last minute changes built in to test capabilities to adapt . “We don’t know for sure until the day of the exercise, they might change it,” Kosto said.
At the end of the meeting, committee chair Vaden also announced that Mimi Farley has resigned from her post as the city’s emergency coordinator.