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May 7, 2010 / Dave Gorham

TRRTF: Texas Rapid Response Task Force Exercise

[Guest blogger Kyle Tupin submits our Friday YourWeatherBlog blog. Mr. Tupin is ImpactWeather’s Vice President of IT and quite active with local emergency response and ham radio efforts and clubs.]

In preparation for the upcoming hurricane season and for emergency response in general, several state and non-profit agencies were involved in a large-scale exercise this week (May 3-7).  The Texas Rapid Response Task Force (RRTF) exercise involved a myriad of agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security, and non-profit organizations such as Billy Graham Ministries, Victim Relief Ministries, the Salvation Army and Texas Baptist Men.

The purpose of the exercise was to test their operational procedures, coordination and control and deployment to a field location.  The majority of the team assembled in Austin, Texas earlier in the week where they convoyed to Texas City, TX in a simulated field deployment.  One of the objectives for the team was to set up the Incident Command System (ICS) which more agencies and even private entities are using when managing small- or large-scale incidents.  ICS gives agencies a common language and structure to deal with responses to an emergency and can be scaled for use in smaller responses such as fire at a local refinery to a larger statewide disaster such as a hurricane.

Communication vehicle- Lake County Illinois

The ICS command post was located at a local mall parking lot, with field units scattered throughout several locations within the county.  One of the major objectives in this type of drill is testing something we all take for granted: communications.  We don’t think twice about picking up our cell phone and talking or texting messages.  As many communities discovered during and after hurricane Rita, cell towers can be destroyed or damaged . . . and backup power doesn’t last forever.  Communications infrastructure is often greatly diminished or completely non-existent in a large-scale disaster.  When telephone and internet services are down, agencies then have to rely on either radio communications or satellite links.  As technology advances, we’ve become dependent on “always on” services such as electricity and telephones.  But sometimes we have to rely on technology that has been around for over 100 years: radio airwaves.

 

Command post from Austin, Texas

During the exercise, agencies tested many forms of communication including ham radio, public safety radio and even highly advanced satellite-based communications systems.  So the next time you pick up your cell phone or send a text message, don’t take it for granted.   You need to ask yourself, “Can I communicate in a real emergency?”

Command vehicles with antennas extended for use

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