Exercise Hurricane Alpha — or HURREX Alpha for short — kicked up Gulf of Mexico waters in mid-April, weeks ahead of the June 1 start of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.
HURREX Alpha wasn’t early. It was right on time, causing mock evacuations, a missing TSA officer, power outages, communication glitches and even a simulated fatality.
How were the officers accounted for during the hurricane? What basic necessities were needed in the stricken areas? How did field personnel source bottled water, fuel and generators? How were they delivered? How did payroll get processed?
These and a myriad other details crucial during natural disaster were asked and answered by HURREX Alpha. The two-day event gave TSA headquarter offices and the coordination centers representing Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT) and Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN) a no fault, hands-on learning environment to increase knowledge of real world Critical Incident Management Group (CIMG) operations.
“Our goal with these training and exercise events is to wake-up and flex the emergency preparedness mechanisms of the agency,” said Charles Martin, HURREX Alpha Exercise Controller and co-facilitator. “When disaster strikes, and it will, our stand-up and response is not an afterthought, but rather a learned and practiced procedure by all involved.”
“The CIMG serves as the single point of coordination and incident management for major threats and hazards,” said Emergency Preparedness Branch’s (EPB) Rodney Phelps, HURREX Alpha Lead Planner and co-facilitator. “Its mission is to support the field, leadership and the federal interagency response by obtaining and sharing information, determining priorities and policies and acquiring and deploying resources.”
In comments to the participants, TSA Administrator David Pekoske pointed to accountability of our people, a quick assessment of our mission capability after a disaster, resource allocation and good communications as the four top takeaways for HUREX Alpha.
“I’m a firm believer in looking at scenarios and exercising them, knowing full well it’s unlikely they will be exactly as we exercise them,” said Pekoske. “The point is to get our processes in place, to get our relationships in place and to make sure we’re all comfortable with the structure.”
HURREX Alpha hits the Gulf Coast – a two-day exercise event
In an entirely virtual environment, a blended training combining seminars and exercises began with briefings from subject matter experts. Representatives from the National Hurricane Center and the National Response Coordination Center gave a comprehensive overview of hurricanes and the national response to them, helping participants see the big picture of federal agency interdependence.
Highlighting lessons learned from past hurricanes, Louis Armstrong New Orleans’ (MSY) Federal Security Director Arden Hudson and the Caribbean’s Assistant Federal Security Director of Law Brad Felling briefed out on their experiences with Hurricane’s Ida, Laura, Ida, Maria and Irma.
“We have learned that you can never be too prepared,” said MSY Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director Brad Meyer in response to the briefing. “Even though you may think you have everything in order, each storm brings different difficulties. If you see one storm, you see one storm. The size, angle of approach, location it derived, etc. all plays a part in the severity and damage it can cause. The main focus for each storm has always been taking care of our TSA-Louisiana family.”
“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to conduct exercises like this, so employees stay fresh with how critical incidents are managed/mitigated,” said Incident Manager Ron Pavlik.
Colorado State University expects this year’s hurricane season will be above average with major hurricanes making landfall, so lessons learned from HURREX Alpha are important for agency disaster response.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs