An Overview of Operation Mountain Guardian

For over a year, I have heard about this humongous multi-jurisdiction exercise called Operation Mountain Guardian (sometimes also called Oh My God, also shortened to OMG!)  From time to time I would ask my friends and associates within law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services if they needed help (like do you need role players, actors, folks who can make coffee, etc.).  And basically got the same answer: “We think we have it covered, but we will let you know.”

Then in the first week of August, I got a call from Carolyn Bluhm (Emergency Management Coordinator, Community Relations Specialist, City and County of Denver Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security).  She told me she just got off the phone with Lieutenant Stacey Goss (Exercise Director of OMG).  Lt. Goss asked if Carolyn could manage the role playing volunteers (it could be anywhere from 300 to 500).  Carolyn told her yes, but was holding her breath until she made one more phone call.

I was that next phone call.  I asked what would be the scope of the assistance.  Carolyn thought we had ten sites to manage; we will need to register the volunteers, provide snacks and food and arrange for moulage (applying make up to appear like injuries on selected role players).  But Carolyn said she was not sure.

I told Carolyn that we would need to meet with Lt. Goss as soon as possible, and anyone she recommended.  Within a week or two, Carolyn was able to have both of us to meet with Pony Anderson (Aurora Community College at Lowry), Fran Santagata (Douglas County Office of Emergency Management) and Lt. Goss herself.

We were able to get our ten sites down to three (Park Meadows, Smedley Elementary School and Aurora Community College at Lowry.  Snacks and food would be taken care of by the three jurisdictions, and moulage had been contracted out.

Therefore, all we had to do was “herd cats”.

In my first meeting with Pony Anderson, she laid out in detail what was being planned at Lowry.  Basically lots of area to cover and lots of role players (maybe 250).  Pony looked at me and said, “Why aren’t you freaking out?”

“What you want us to do is to make sure the volunteer role players don’t get lost, hurt, sick, lots of water and fed?”

Pony nodded.

“We have been doing this in the NCR’s Full Scale CERT exercises since 2006.  We have not lost a volunteer yet.”

Pony looked like the weight of the world was taken off her shoulders.

I had similar meetings with Stacy and Fran.

Each of the three sites had unique challenges: Park Meadows – 3 AM start time, Smedley – lock down with possibly bored students playing hostages and of course Lowry with lots of acreage and the most role players.

OMG @ DMI

The Emergency Operations Center at the Disaster Management Institute at the Community College of Aurora served as the control room for all elements of the exercise. Photo courtesy of Community College of Aurora.

With each site I had in mind the Site Managers: Donita Hilfinger at Park Meadows– outside of myself, she was the most familiar with Fran; Gary Freeman at Smedley – Lt. Goss was not sure who would be at Smedly, but it would be someone from Denver Police Department – with Gary as former law enforcement, this seemed like a good fit and Jenn Scott at Lowry – knowing her personality would put Pony at ease.

George Bartling set up our communications needs so that we could talk to Smedley, Park Meadows, Lowry and the Denver EOC.  George is my hero.

As always, our teams went above the call of duty.  Prior to the start of OMG, the Lowry team helped straighten up and clean the Katrina Building.  During the exercise at Park Meadows, the Mall team helped place the role players.

My challenge was to see if I could use my mobile radio to broadcast out of the Denver EOC and communicate with all the other sites.  I used my 40 watt mobile radio, external power supply, magnetic mounted antenna, which connected to Jeannie’s (the XYL) old cookie sheet (acting as a ground plane).  I was concerned how well I could transmit and be received, being in a basement and downtown with all those tall buildings.

It worked really well!  I could contact George at Lowry and Donita at Park Meadows.  With Pat O’Neill, our radio person at Smedley, she could hear me, but had to use her cell phone to call me and to check in.

The only excitement reported to Denver EOC was when one of the Role Players got carried away with their role and this got the attention of the FBI.  After some discussion, everything seemed to be okay.

All in all, I believe the entire operation went very well!  Since OMG, I have received praise after praise on how professional and accommodating O.M.E.G.A. had been and they see us in a better light!

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