USFJ disaster drill tests for communications problems
To test their ability to pack up, relocate and function again following a serious disaster, U.S. Forces Japan staff acted out a relocation drill Friday.
The command practiced reacting to a massive earthquake that hypothetically destroyed Yokota Air Base west of Tokyo, where USFJ headquarters is located. Representatives from various divisions of the command loaded into helicopters and vans and traveled from Yokota to Camp Zama.
There, they set up an entire command and control operation, assuring them that even under the worst situations, communication still would be possible.
About 60 people took part, including USFJ deputy commander Maj. Gen. Timothy R. Larsen and representatives from operations, the provost marshal’s office, legal office, public affairs, logistics and communications.
“It’s designed to make sure that we have communications with the components and our headquarters as far back as the Pentagon,” said Col. Robert Harvey, director of operations for USFJ headquarters. “The object is to maintain or significantly transfer command and control if anything ever happens to our control center.”
Each month, USFJ runs a drill that allows it to test communications under different circumstances. Friday’s practice for the first time included a physical relocation.
After arriving at Zama, members of the command ensured they could telephone, e-mail or fax their headquarters, including Pacific Command in Hawaii, and each component command — U.S. Army Japan, Commander Naval Forces Japan and the III Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa.
They also coordinated with Japanese agencies, including the Japanese Staff Office and the U.S. Embassy.
“Everything went very well,” said Air Force Maj. Richelle Dowdell, who represented the public affairs office. “We were able to transfer control to Zama.”
With the communications flowing, the drill allowed USFJ to practice setting up the foundation of a crisis response team.
In the event of a disaster, after resuming command the team would be able to coordinate with Japanese agencies and the U.S. Embassy to mobilize military forces for relief, Harvey said. That is the first, most challenging and most important step after a catastrophic event.
“Communication is always a problem after any type of event, as we saw especially after 9/11,” he said. “And as we are learning from Katrina, command and control … is very challenging.”
In a real emergency, military forces would coordinate relief aid through the State Department, so linking with the Embassy was vital, Harvey said. Once tapped for help, USFJ can very quickly mobilize military forces to find and aid survivors or help with rebuilding.
“The U.S. military has a great capability to do that, to assist in any catastrophe, so of course we would be setting that up,” Harvey said.
Besides physically relocating and operating quickly, the drill helped the USFJ staff members consider what would be necessary in a crisis. If an earthquake knocked out the Joint Operations Center at Yokota, power would likely also be out in the area and roads clogged or impassable.
The exercise helped the staff consider many such factors, he said.
“We also want to assess our roles and responsibilities and what we would actually do if there were an earthquake,” Harvey said. “You can’t really practice that, so we’ll sit and talk about it, think about some of the things that might be involved so we can be prepared.”