Were Mounts Vesuvius or Etna to blow, would U.S. servicemembers and their families living in Italy know what to do to survive? Officials from two Navy bases don’t want to wait for the real thing to find out.

In February, the Navy will hold disaster drills centered on volcanic eruptions and their aftermath in an effort to prepare people stationed in Naples and Sigonella to effectively react, officials said.

Exercise Neptune Response 07 — slated for Feb. 21-23 — will test the region’s emergency plans, Cmdr. Wayne Neely, public safety director for Navy Region Europe, said in a statement. The drill will include participation by local Italian officials and civil defense personnel.

Planners used lessons learned from last year’s flooding at Sigonella, on the Italian island of Sicily, to draft plans for the upcoming drills, Navy Region Europe spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder said.

In December 2005, raging floodwaters reduced operational capabilities at Naval Air Station Sigonella II, and poured through the Marinai military housing complex, less than a mile away. Of the 526 housing units, families were evacuated from 464. The flood left the base with a $10.5 million cleanup and repair bill. No one was injured.

And then there’s Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, which looms just north of the Navy base. Steam and sulphur frequently emanate from its peak. The NAS I support complex, which includes the schools, Navy Exchange and commissary, is at the base of Etna’s south slope. NAS II, including the Marinai military housing complex, is nearby in a valley.

An eruption in 2002 blanketed the region in ash and disrupted base activities. And last month officials kept a wary eye on the volcano as it spit ash.

While Navy bases in Europe conduct quarterly, individual exercises, Neptune Response 07 will be the most robust exercise to date for the region, said Roger Hoot, emergency management team leader for Navy Region Europe.

“There are multiple benefits from this type of exercise,” he said in a statement. “We can determine the adequacy of our plans, if the (base) population understands its role and how it should respond, while at the same time assess the adequacy of our technical equipment.”

Neptune Response 08 is planned for October 2007 and will involve Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Crete, and possibly NSA Naples, Snyder said.

Additional information will be broadcast on local American Forces Network television and radio stations, and posted on the Internet at:

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