By Kevin Gaddie, Team Eglin Public Affairs
/ Published May 15, 2020
Maj. Kelly Mattie, Eglin emergency operations center director, briefs the Crisis Action Team on disaster response during the annual hurricane exercise at Eglin Air Force Base Fla. May 14. The base conducted the event while reviewing COVID-19 protocols and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)
Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Neal, an Eglin emergency operations center manager, gives Recovery Team Leadership training to EOC personnel during the annual hurricane exercise at Eglin Air Force Base Fla. May 14. The base conducted the event while reviewing COVID-19 protocols and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)
Team Eglin added a second complication to the annual hurricane exercise May 6-14, by conducting the event while reviewing COVID-19 protocols and procedures.
The exercise was one of the first held in the Air Force since the corona virus global pandemic began.
Maj. Kelly Mattie, emergency operations center director, said all emergency operations strategies related to the virus were scrutinized.
“We had some good lessons learned after Hurricane Michael, and made several revisions to our hurricane plan,” Mattie said. “However, in our first hurricane exercise to test the revisions, we had a real-world COVID-19 contingency mixed in.”
All regulations, instructions, procedures, plans and policies related to COVID-19, as applicable during a hurricane, were thoroughly reviewed during the exercise, according to Tech. Sgt. Jacob Urry, Hurrex director.
“We insured they were all clear, pertinent and adaptable to given scenarios and executed appropriately,” he said. “We did it safely, without as much physical interaction as in past exercises.”
Exercise planning was conducted virtually. In one scenario, three nearby states were eliminated as evacuation destinations due to the virus, Urry said. This prompted planning evacuations to secondary locations.
“Participation from base units and tenants was awesome,” Urry said. “It helps exercise structure and execution when information sharing and effective communication practices are in place.”
Mattie said limitations caused by the virus to certain contingency and emergency operations were addressed. EOC manning was streamlined, checklists were reviewed and virtual connections were ramped up during the exercise, he added.
This year, deployment of equipment and personnel movement to aircraft evacuation or hurricane relief sites, was simulated.
During the hurricane, equipment and the personnel who move with it, departing and returning to the base, did so according to 96th Medical Group and the Center for Disease Control guidelines, Mattie said. All movements are evaluated in accordance with COVID-19 risk levels.
Processes for sheltering people off-base and care for recovery team personnel who could contract the virus, were reviewed.
Mattie encouraged base personnel to heed all COVID-19 information disseminated by their leadership. As teleworking is now a reality, he encouraged close monitoring of all communication channels and social media platforms during a real hurricane.
“We balanced the real-world COVID-19 situation with the hurricane exercise,” Mattie said. “The exercise allowed the 96th Test Wing staff to think deeper about preparing for an actual event. A lot of good lessons came from the exercise and Team Eglin has a strong plan, going forward.”