In September of 2013 OMEGA was deployed by the Colorado Division of Emergency Management to support the evacuation operations for the flooding in Boulder and Larimer Counties. This was not our first time at a disaster, nor the first time working with a multitude of agencies to establish a foothold in a dangerous and dynamic environment, but this was our first time serving as an overhead incident management team and taking responsibility for hundreds of individuals being evacuated from their homes in the wake of a massive regional disaster.
Even though we had a solid understanding of what needed to be done and were given the flexibility, leeway and support by the State to perform our duties, not everything happened by the book and our own resources were stretched to the breaking limit.
On March 31, 2014, as homework for the Master Exercise Practitioner Program Discussion-Based Exercise Design and Evaluation class, OMEGA held an internal tabletop exercise, Operation Aquis Altum, to review policy, identify gaps and weaknesses and develop a better strategy and establish best practices for future deployments.
Our biggest problem in the flood deployment was that while well supplied both by the state and by Boulder County, our fielded team was left in the field without operational support or relief resources for a continuous 30 hour period. Due to the flooding and the remoteness of our assignment, our members were unable to stand down or go off line for required rest and rehabilitation and remained on station for an extensive period of time. The failure was in the rapidly evolving scope of the disaster, requiring that any new resources on scene be assigned to other areas of the incident and our own inability to bring in additional resources because we sincerely believed that relief was just hours away.
Members participating in the tabletop exercise determined that a future best practice needs to involve a two-prong approach. In an on-going process OMEGA’s Duty Officer will be responsible for full situational awareness of events in the state and is to deliver updates to potential mission coordinators and general membership, in effect leaning forward to be ready for a potential deployment.
The second element would be utilized in any team deployment, requiring OMEGA to stand up a “home team”, in effect a private Emergency Operations Center, to coordinate with the deploying agency and any other entities involved in the operation and managing all logistical, planning and administrative needs, including planning for future operational periods, serving as a Multi-Agency Coordination Center and allowing members in the field to focus on operations alone, knowing that all other elements of the deployment are being handled on their behalf.