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“Volcanic activity” from Mounts Vesuvius and Etna on Wednesday morning kicked off the first day of a massive three-day disaster drill testing personnel at two U.S. Navy bases in Italy.

Exercise Neptune Response 07 is intended to measure how well the Navy can track its personnel and provide for its members and their families in the event of a disaster or attack on its bases.

The far-reaching exercise includes Italian officials, from air force elements in Sicily to Italian civil defense forces and scientists who monitor volcanic activity.

For the exercise, at 7:02 a.m. Wednesday, Italian officials notified the U.S. Embassy, which in turn contacted base leaders at Naval Support Activity Naples and Naval Air Station Sigonella to inform them of “unusual geographic turbulence under the shell of earth, causing bulging due to pressure in the volcanoes,” said Scott Campbell, a spokesman for Navy Region Europe.

The aim is “accountability of personnel — where they’re at and how they’re doing,” Campbell said. “It’s also meant to educate family members in the evacuation process — and emergency preparedness.”

The drill is part of the Navywide exercise Citadel Personnel Accountability 07, prompted by the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Neptune Response gives us the opportunity to work on some known deficiencies — mass notification, personnel accountability, and critical resource management,” said Capt. Floyd Hehe, Naples’ commander. “We are trying to sharpen our skills and test our community’s response in time of crises or natural disaster.

“It has been quite some time since we addressed our disaster instructions and an update was due,” Hehe said.

During the three-day exercise, commanders will be tested with a variety of scenarios to measure how well they respond to disasters. For example, testers Wednesday in Sigonella faked the overturning of a firetruck on its way to an emergency call, and faked a plane crash on the base’s runway to simulate the closing of the airfield, prompting commanders in the emergency operations center to come up with evacuation options.

While people aren’t being loaded onto planes and ships for actual evacuations, Campbell said, exercise personnel are making phone calls to other bases and services to check on numbers and availability of equipment.

Crisis response and management overseas require careful coordination between both U.S. Navy and host nation officials, said Capt. Joe Stuyvesant, Sigonella’s commander.

“We are extremely appreciative of the host country’s assistance and expertise provided during this exercise,” he said.


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