Annual evacuation exercise enhances readiness throughout Korea
USAG YONGSAN, South Korea (Nov. 1, 2015) -- Family members, civilians, contractors and other non-emergency personnel visited noncombatant evacuation operation, or NEO, centers throughout the Korean Peninsula, Oct. 28 - Nov. 1, as part of Exercise Courageous Channel to learn more about what to expect during a real-world crisis or natural disaster.
The annual U.S. Forces Korea evacuation exercise performs the dual function of both preparing community members for a potential evacuation and training military personnel to execute the massive undertaking should a situation ever call for one.
"We want to give people the opportunity to go through the site so they know what to expect and also to give our personnel and our NEO wardens a chance to train," said Capt. Kimberly Bevins, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, and officer in charge of tags during the exercise.
As a way to build upon their efforts each year and be better prepared in the event of a real emergency, the staff takes careful note of areas for improvement and those protocols that generate success.
"Each year we review lessons learned during the previous exercise and then apply those lessons to help Families better understand the process," said Maj. James Leidenberg, planner for the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, Eighth Army. "A few areas where we have improved has been to ensure that Families have their NEO packets updated, their pets registered…and all of their required paperwork filled out. The bottom line is that when a crisis hits you don't have a lot of time to go back and do that preparation, so anything you can do before-hand will expedite the evacuation."
In addition to readiness, safety was also a common theme throughout the week to reduce the potential of injuries occurring during the exercise or in the course of an actual evacuation.
"Safety is one of the most important factors during both an exercise and a real-world event that results in NEO," Leidenberg said. "People need to understand the process and the flow because emotions will be high and conditions could be trying. As they better understand the process it helps to mitigate some of the safety risk."
As part of this year's exercise, Eighth Army held mock evacuation flights supported by the 2nd Assault Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
"We are doing actual military air flights with [UH-60] Blackhawks and using the same processes and procedures that would take place during an evacuation," Leidenberg said. "Safety is foremost in our minds, so we try to make things here as realistic as possible."
The five-day exercise went off without a hitch, but as one would expect the staff is never satisfied and always looking for ways to continue to improve.
"There are aspects of a real-world situation you just can't simulate," Leidenberg said. "But we do our best to make sure what people see when they come into the [NEO Center] is almost exactly the same as they would see in a real event. Once this year's exercise is over we will go back and take lessons learned and continue to refine our process so that we can get everyone evacuated as safely and quickly as possible."