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Code Silver trains for worst-case scenarios

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Glory Smith
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The 100th Air Refueling Wing participated with the 48th Fighter Wing and several British agencies in a weapons of mass destruction table-top exercise with a medical focus at Royal Air Force Lakenheath March 21 to 23.

Code Silver is an Air Force-level exercise that tests the base-level response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear explosives incidents, with the objectives of identifying shortfalls and limiting factors in plans and capabilities, and cultivating relationships across base units and with the off-base community.

“Both U.S. Air Force and British participants agreed the table-top review was helpful in opening the lines of communication between agencies,” said 1st Lt. Joe Balk, 100th ARW Inspections and Readiness deputy chief. “It laid the groundwork for further collaboration between U.S. Air Force and United Kingdom responders.”

During the exercise, a contracted facilitator talked participants through development of and responses to two different scenarios: a terrorist-caused explosion with a follow-on chemical agent and radiological hazard on base, and a string of illnesses and deaths throughout the community resulting from the release of a biological agent on base.

The exercise brought together the 48th Medical Group, as well as civil engineer, legal, security forces, services, office of special investigations and public affairs members from both the 100th ARW and 48th FW. British participants included the Ministry of Defence Police, Suffolk and Norfolk Constabularies, Health Protection Agency, East Anglian Ambulance Trust and Suffolk Health Emergency Resilience Team.

Serving as integral liaisons between the U.S. and British agencies, said one of the exercise organizers, were the RAF station commanders from both bases and the RAF regional liaison officer.

A new command and control element came on board in fiscal 2005, based on feedback from the previous year, which brought senior leaders and battlestaffs together for a portion of the exercise. It’s part of a new policy to provide installation leadership the opportunity to walk through the response and mitigation of a biological incident, as well as “to explore the myriad of command decisions required post-event,” said Capt. Daniel Schneider, 48th Medical Group CBRNE medical defense officer. “We had both wings’ senior leadership in one room playing an exercise together for perhaps the first time.”

The Code Silver here was the first in the United Kingdom to include the command and control element, and only the second in U.S. Air Forces in Europe . Forty-five installations accomplished Code Silver last year, with all U.S. installations set to run it this year, according to the facilitator.

Because there is a possibility of such catastrophes, the exercise proved very valuable in working through significant details on several issues, said Col. Colleen Ryan, 100th Mission Support Group commander and Team Mildenhall Disaster Control Group commander.

“We’ve identified some areas we can work on, and to be most effective, we must have a close working relationship between agencies,” she said. “We really do have a robust capacity.”

The project officer for the exercise agreed.

“Today provided a lot of insight into individual roles in the larger picture,” said Captain Schneider. “We need to approach situations like this from a community operations standpoint so that all agencies can better fulfill their obligations.”

This exercise provided the first opportunity for the U.S. and U.K. agencies to exercise a CBRNE incident together. It was useful because both the scenarios and levels of uncertainty were realistic, said Dr. Mark Reacher, East of England regional epidemiologist with the HPA.

“We know who to contact here and we will have early conversations in the event of an incident,” said the doctor, whose agency would work closely with base officials to identify environmental threats then work with health care professionals in limiting or controlling the potential harm caused by those threats.

This is the only Code Silver exercise for the two bases this year.