DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY AND VETERANS AFFAIRS
For immediate release: Contact: Kryn P. Westhoven
March 20, 2009 609-530-6950/cell 609-902-1758
First state department to test disaster plan
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs today became the first New Jersey state agency to execute an emergency-response plan, conducting a drill that simulated a catastrophic event at the DMAVA headquarters building in Lawrenceville and transported every employee to an alternative worksite at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt.
Exercise Steadfast Response launched just after 8 p.m. Thursday when employees were notified in a series of phone calls that a natural or manmade disaster had made the headquarters building inoperable. Employees were ordered to report either directly to the alternative worksite Friday or to the headquarters building to board buses bound for Sea Girt.
Upon arrival at Sea Girt, employees resumed operations in a pre-designated building.
Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the adjutant general, told employees the drill offered the department an opportunity to hone its ability to continue its vital missions in the event of an emergency.
"We will get out of this what we put into it," Rieth said. "Other state agencies will look to DMAVA as they plan their own exercises."
In addition to providing command and control of the 8,300 members of the New Jersey National Guard, DMAVA also operates three long-term care facilities, a transitional housing program for homeless veterans, the busiest state-run veterans' cemetery in the nation and a state-wide network of veterans' services offices.
The aim of the drill is to ensure that this work can continue in the event of an emergency that renders the headquarters building inoperable. In addition to Sea Girt, DMAVA officials have identified four other sites around the state that could also serve as an alternative headquarters.
The drill also allowed for the first use of a new mobile tactical operations center, which is a truck trailer outfitted with a communications system that's able to communicate with a variety of government agencies and receive a real-time video streams from cameras mounted on National Guard helicopters or other vehicles.
Brig. Gen. Stephen J. Hines, Duputy Commanding General, 42nd Infantry Division said the mobile operations center can be dispatched to any emergency, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The mobile center could replicate the functions of the Homeland Security Center of Excellence, a 24-hour domestic preparedness center located on the grounds of DMAVA's headquarters complex.
The exercise lasted six hours. A team of four evaluators from the New Jersey State Police called the exercise a success.
The lead evaluator, Roy Smith, noted that DMAVA is the first to conduct such an exercise.
"You guys are ahead of the game," he told the employees who gathered at the end of the exercise.
Rieth said the exercise met his expectations.
"We've risen to a challenge," he said. "I hope we never have to execute a plan like this for real. But it's good business to be ready if it did."