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Minnesota National Guard
Exercise tests communications among response agencies

Vital Connections ST PAUL, Minn - When a telecommunications cyber and Electronic Magnetic Pulse attack has disrupted communication in the metro area and communications need to be established to Camp Ripley's Emergency Management Training Center, what do you do? You train!

A recent "Vital Connections" exercise, sponsored by the Minnesota National Guard, US Northern Command, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Emergency Communication Network and Homeland Security and Emergency Management, was exactly the platform to test this emergency scenario

"Historically, events like 9/11 and Katrina there were issues from interoperability and the lack of the ability for people to communicate with the people they need to reach," said exercise deputy director, Capt Tim Grinde, Minnesota National Guard "In the incidence that there is a domestic response, it's extremely important that we have the ability, the know-how, the relationships built and networks and equipment figured out so that everyone can communicate with each other"

The four-day exercise tested the abilities of 47 organizations including public safety, federal, state, county, local, tribal and private industry in two locations The primary location for the event, which took place August 3-6, was at Arden Hills Army Training Site and the second location was at Camp Ripley The event was a ramp-up exercise for the recent Vigilant Guard exercise, but focused on the communications aspect of an emergency response

The focus of the exercise was to practice and demonstrate communications interoperability among civilian first responders, augmented by military personnel

"From the public safety and private sector side there was extreme praise and enthusiasm for the training to actually happen," said Grinde "A big part of the success was the neutral oversight of it, we had a more nonobjective point of view facilitating and bringing it together

This exercise pulled together a variety of emergency response organizations from FEMA to the Mille Lacs Band of Objibwa, Minnesota Department of Health to Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as multiple military communications units and teams from Colorado, Wisconsin, New York, Georgia, Arizona and Indiana to name a few

"During the exercise we took the array of agencies and determined what they needed to do to get all the agencies communicating with each other," said Grinde "We looked at their respective capabilities and what they were bringing to the exercise and aligned them in three divisions with a leader under each of them The leader's job was to take a look at all the capabilities that they have and determine a communications plan on getting everyone to communicate and best utilize what capabilities they have We also looked at what shortfalls they had and determined the best way to work through those and improve their communication process"

Grinde said that during the exercise an almost forgotten method of communication was added at the last minute

"A last minute add that came out of this was the use of the HF (high frequency) capabilities that were out there," said Grinde "HF was used extensively in World War II and through the Vietnam War As that era has faded and new technologies have moved in, it became a lost art You can do extreme long distance communication but few people still knew how to use it, but it is still a viable back up"

Grinde added that HF is rarely looked at as a primary means of communication but if the network cell towers and internet went down it is a means of communication that you can send both voice and data over The reaching capabilities are extensive

"During this exercise we had a couple of people who were reaching into other nations," said Grinde "We were using it to communicate with Washington as part of the exercise"

The exercise was sponsored by US Northern Command this year, but judging by the overwhelming response and success, the Minnesota National Guard plans on making the training event an annual event

"This was the initial exercise like this," said Grinde "We haven't done a communications exercise at this scale before The interest is there across the field and we are looking into making this an annual event Now that we have this one out of the way, the idea is try to co-host the event with an organization from the public safety side and rotate the public sector agencies We will always be part of the exercise and have an agency co-sponsor"

"In this day and age it is important to keep the skills and practice those skills that we had an opportunity to use," said Grinde "Communications and information technology is a very perishable skill as well as with the turnover on the military and public sector side of things People need to retain those skills and practice them Coming together and exercising your equipment is a good thing"

"This was not a MN National Guard success story, but a success as the group as a whole and could not have been done without the partnerships that we have built as a state over the years," concluded Grinde

October 30, 2015
by Staff Sgt Johnny Angelo
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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