Virginia Guard, VDF join other state agencies for I-64 lane reversal communication exercise

 

Members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force joined members of the Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management in a state-level, inter-agency communications exercise along the I-64 corridor between Richmond and Norfolk May 5. The exercise tested inter-agency communication capabilities in preparation for potential natural disasters which would cause a lane reversal on the interstates within the commonwealth. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard and members of the Virginia Defense Force joined members of other Virginia state agencies for a communication exercise May 5. The exercise was a chance to test and validate Interstate 64 lane reversal communications between Richmond and Norfolk and prepare the Department of Military Affairs for missions in the event a hurricane strikes Virginia.

Members of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management participated in the exercise.

If a hurricane or other disaster were to hit the Hampton Roads area, the governor could order an evacuation of the region.  Then gates would be lowered at entrance and exit ramps on eastbound I- 64 so that all lanes of traffic would be westbound, along an evacuation route.  

VDEM has conducted I-64 lane reversal exercises and the Department of Military Affairs has conducted training to support the lane reversals, but the two have never taken place at the same time, according to Chief Warrant Officer Chris Johnson, deputy communications officer and knowledge management officer.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force monitor communication between various Virginia state agencies with their Tac Paks during a state-level inter-agency communications exercise along the I-64 corridor between Richmond and Norfolk May 5, 2012. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“This year, for the first time, VDEM, VSP, VDOT and DMA conducted a joint command and control lane reversal exercise,” he said. “This was a great success because it identified our strengths, as well as a few gaps to improve on.”

Although no gates were actually lowered, 14 Soldiers from the 1030th Transportation Battalion, along with members of the Virginia State Police, were positioned at three exits to simulate a lane reversal. They were then able to test communications back to a mobile command post set up at the I-64/I-295 interchange.

While the exercise was an opportunity for members of the Department of Military Affairs to work alongside other state agencies, the main goal was to improve communication and ensure a proper flow of information between all agencies involved, explained Maj. Todd Pegg, executive officer of the 1030th Transportation Battalion.

“We’re trying to fix the information flow to ensure communication up and down the entire chain,” Pegg said. “Us talking to Soldiers is the easy part. It’s the communication between us and other agencies that is the key.”

Pegg was one of 14 Soldiers on duty at a mobile command post near the I-64/I-295 interchange where the Virginia State Police had its mobile communications trailer set up.

“The Soldiers from the 1030th Transportation Battalion were great,” Johnson said.  “They immediately began communicating with their teams at gates on I-64. It is good that our troops are using their combat experiences to provide support to the citizens of Virginia. “

Capt. Clint Harris, commander of the 1173rd Transportation Company, checks the status of other vehicles under his command during the state-level inter-agency communications exercise May 5, 2012. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

While Soldiers from the 1030th monitored communication from their humvees, members of the VDF used their Tac Paks to ensure communication between the command post and Virginia National Guard Joint Operation Center.  

Soldiers and Airmen at the JOC focused on ensuring their communication measures were fully capable while a UH-72 Lakota helicopter from Detachment 2, Company B, 777th Aviation Support Battalion flew over the region to test air to ground communication. The purpose was to execute a communication check between the JOC, exits that will be stood up with communication suites during a lane reversal, and Virginia Guard air assets, according to Capt. Sandy Saltzman, a plans officer in the Virginia Guard J-5 office.

“We didn’t know how far they could reach,” she explained. “We didn’t know if the communication structure worked as advertised. It was basically a chance to prove that everything we were told would work, would actually work.”

“It was a successful training event because it was a joint mission and we were able to talk to someone from the Virginia State Police and the Virginia Department of Transportation,” said Capt. Brett Gibson, a future operations officer with the Virginia National Guard.  “So in that way we trained like we would execute.”

To view photos from this event visit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157629607953572/