Operation Swift Response was the second in a series of full-scale exercises to challenge the recently formed Statewide Technical Rescue capabilities spearheaded by the Fire Chiefs of Massachusetts in cooperation with Massachusetts Emergency Management, Department of Fire Services and the Regional Homeland Security Councils. The Commonwealth will continue to build out regional technical rescue teams that can deploy in a moment’s notice and begin to assemble at an incident as quick as 20 minutes with a full team and equipment cache within the hour of any event.

This mobilization exercise, Operation Swift Response, was executed on June 8 and 9, 2015. The planning for this exercise started in January 2015, and the Planning Team conducted 24, four-hour sessions, to prepare for this event. The simulated large area severe weather event was the crux of the devastation, requiring technical rescue team deployment to two geographically separate areas, simultaneously, over two days. The sites located in Plainville and Topsfield (MA) were selected by the planning team. Many local, regional and state agencies worked together cooperatively to challenge their own assets and to make the drill a success.

The four core objectives for this year’s MOBEX were: 1) Deploy to two sites simultaneously for two days and provide search and rescue; 2) Demonstrate interoperability with all the fire based technical rescue teams representing the North and South Groups and the NG CERF-P soldiers; 3) Demonstrate capability to move all teams with personnel and equipment into the sites using NG Aviation; 4) Demonstrate command and control using newly formed technical rescue Incident Support Team (IST) and expanding its capability with the Multi Agency Coordination (MAC), Area Command.

On day one both sites used aviation to its fullest capability and crews had to plan mobilization of the teams, proper manifest documentation, packaging Blackhawk helicopters provided by National Guard Aviation and deploying to sites with efficiency. Once deployed they assembled a hasty search team and begin formulating plans for search and rescue while maintaining a steady force in the field and providing for rehab and rapid intervention teams. IST followed into the site with a planned delay and began to support the operation locally with all things necessary to support the teams with anywhere from 150 to 200 people operating in the field at each site, while maintaining a safe and steady flow of personnel from the landing zone. Area command was established in keeping with the NIMS National Response Plan and began to assist with resource needs between sites, as well as resources that needed to be filled by the State EOC Emergency Support Function (ESF) Desks. Area command maintained accurate situational awareness from both sites and assisted in the development of Incident Action Plans (IAP) for each operational period being developed by each site.

It is safe to say that many strengths have been identified due largely to the commitment by all involved, and that areas of improvement indicated in the After Action Report will be addressed in the coming year, with a plan for the next year’s MOBEX to include newly established regional teams and a focus on a hazardous material theme.

– Fire News story by Chief Kevin Nord, photos by Rob Reardon and Pat Travers