Members of the 115th Fighter Wing participated in the State Interoperable Mobile Communications Exercise in Fitchburg and surrounding areas, Feb. 7-8.
SIMCOM offers the 115th FW’s Joint Interoperability Site Communications Capability team a chance to support civil authorities participating in the three-day event. Airmen have the opportunity to coordinate and test mobile emergency communications capabilities prior to real-world situations.
“We offer a variety of capabilities that other agencies can request and we can do our best to try to bridge the gap that they have,” said Captain Jeffrey Rutkowski, officer in charge of the JISCC team.
This year’s exercise provided Airmen the opportunity to train in a winter ice emergency scenario affecting 600,000 people and disconnecting power to roughly 50,000 people. Some of the capabilities the JISCC team offered during the exercise included incident site communications, reach-back communications, on-scene command post integration, and voice interoperability.
“It is important for people to communicate either with phones, radio, or something as simple as email,” Rutkowski said. “Agencies rely on those means of communication to successfully accomplish their jobs, and if you are in an area or an event where they have no cell phone, or they have no internet, we can provide those capabilities for them.”
The JISCC team bridges communication gaps to ensure all other aspects of emergency response can be accomplished seamlessly.
This is not the first time that the 115th FW Airmen participated in a SIMCOM exercise, however it is the first time in its 11-year history the exercise was conducted in the winter.
“With the cold season comes extra challenges,” Rutkowski said. “We had to keep the area clear of snow to keep the ground from becoming too slippery, running a higher risk of slips and falls.”
The team added a couple extra hours to their regular setup time to ensure they could move equipment through the snow, had time to take their warm-up breaks, and clear the snow itself. The cold weather also gave the team a chance to use and test their equipment in a different circumstance.
“We have a piece of equipment that doubles as an air conditioner and heater,” Rutkowski said. “We had never utilized the heat prior to this exercise, so we assumed you could flip a switch and it would start spitting out hot air. That wasn’t the case.”
According to Rutkowski, the JISCC team experienced equipment failure with their heating device, something they would not have found without participating in a winter exercise like this SIMCOM.
The JISCC team was not the only 115th FW team to train in the exercise. The Emergency Management team set up their All Hazards Emergency Response Trailer, a mobile center used to provide basic military communications, if needed. The EM team bridges the gap between military and civilian communication.
The 25 foot rapid response trailer is able to serve as an on-site incident command center, and can utilize the communications connectivity provided by the JISCC to establish direct radio communications with civilian emergency responders, as well as connect with military networks.
“Whether it be the JISCC or amateur radio, local police departments or fire departments, they all exercise their ability to communicate with the different assets or people who are involved,” said Senior Airman Cory Corson, EM specialist.
“This exercise gave the JISCC team an opportunity to build relationships and network with the city of Fitchburg and all the different participants”, Rutkowski said.
“Those who participated in the SIMCOM now have a better understanding of what the Air National Guard and JISCC can offer if they ever need us,” Rutkowski said. “These exercises are vital, and our Airmen are grateful for the training and experiences they take away from them.”