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HURCON: Wing prepares for natural disasters

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 45th Space Wing completed July 27 HURCON Exercise Ocean Breeze 07-11, simulating a hurricane making landfall close to Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS.

The exercise began July 23 and was designed to test the wing's ability to react to a hurricane and its aftermath.

This is the second hurricane exercise the wing has performed this year. The first was in May and was held in conjunction with Brevard County agencies.

"We are required to hold one natural disaster exercise a year, but we hold a second one in July because we have such a turnover in commanders in June," said Bob Grijalva, 45th SW Inspector General exercise evaluation team chief. "This is basically an orientation exercise for them."

This exercise was the first for the wing's vice commander, Col. Stephen Butler, since his arrival at Patrick.

"Being new to the area and in an environment susceptible to hurricanes, I learned a lot from this exercise," said Colonel Butler, "First, it is a team sport - no one can go it alone. Every group and tenant on Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral AFS must work together to make it happen."

The wing's top leaders formed the Commander's Senior Staff - formerly known as Battle Staff - to coordinate actions with each other and their separate offices.

When HURCON IV was declared, warning that hurricane-force winds were within 72 hours of the base, the senior staff members went into action, keeping in touch with their offices via the Web-based Shark Command and Control System.

For each HURCON condition, there were tasks to be completed, such as securing assets at the Cape, notifying the dependents of temporary duty and deployed members, and releasing all non-essential personnel for evacuation, all the while maintaining a strict account of where all personnel were located. Most of these tasks were simulated in order to maintain a level of normalcy so staffers could complete their regular jobs.

The exercise continued through HURCON I, meaning hurricane winds are within 12 hours of the base. At this point, the members of the Hurricane Evacuation Site Staff were recalled. The HESS is a specialized group whose members are trained in operating a hurricane shelter. In a real-world situation the HESS evacuates the base and reports to the Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School in Port St. John or Malaber Tracking Annex to ride out the storm.

Finally, the exercise entered the recovery phase beginning with RECON I. The Hurricane Recovery Team, another special group composed of troops from civil engineering, medical and security forces, are recalled from evacuation and begin estimating damages and preparing the base for more people to return.

The exercise complete, attention now turns to how it went. "There's always room for improvement with communication," said Mr. Grijalva, "and with accountability as well, since you can't really test that in a hurricane until you actually have one, and you have everyone scattered all over the place!"

Colonel Butler wanted to thank the members who took part in the exercise. "It was reassuring to watch the team step through the processes in place to respond to the inputs received from the exercise controllers. Each exercise was treated as though it was the real thing," he said. "If the real deal comes our way, the 45th Space Wing Sharks are ready!"