Florida National Guard participates in regional communications exercise

Written by  //  July 5, 2011  //  Feature Stories

STARKE, Fla. (July 5, 2011) – Florida Guardsmen joined communications experts from local emergency response agencies at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center recently to test their ability to communicate with each other during disasters.
The exercise, The exercise, aptly named “Operation Communicate Freedom,” is one of a series of exercises being conducted across the state of Florida to test interoperable communications.

Soldiers and Airmen from the Florida National Guard work with first responders from the region during Operation Communicate Freedom, an interoperable communications exercise at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, June 29-30. The exercise is one of a series of exercises throughout the state to test the ability of response agencies to communicate with each other during disasters. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens

“This particular exercise is for the Northeast Florida region,” said Jeffrey Alexander, the lead exercise planner with the Northeast Florida Regional Council. “We’re attempting to test the interoperable communications resources within the region and the ability of the technicians to do the various tasks that we’ve identified.”

Interoperability is taking the various divergent communications systems – large networks for big cities and small networks from smaller communities and agencies – and linking them together so they can communicate with each other. This allows first responders from outside agencies to come into a situation and begin to respond quickly.

“Interoperability is the ability to take their communications system when they come to our community, link it in and everybody and still be able to talk to each other so they can work together,” said Alexander.

Interoperability is important during disasters because each responding agency must be able to communicate in order to efficiently and effectively respond.

“In any major disaster, no entity can respond alone, they need the neighboring communities and agencies from outside the impacted areas,” said Alexander. “When they come in, they have to be able to talk to each other to work together to address whatever issues there are.”

The Florida National Guard is an integral part of any regional response in Florida. During disasters or emergencies, the Florida National Guard has multiple resources it can provide to a local response to improve communications. One such resource, the Regional Emergency Response Network, or RERN, can provide several different options for responders, including voice, data, satellite and radio communications.

“There are so many different agencies that have their own frequencies and different systems – UHF, VHF – we can have one person talking to another even though their radios are on different networks and different systems,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Nemchik, with the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. “We can provide that capability.”

The exercise is designed to determine where procedures can be improved and what additional resources are needed in order to provide an effective response.

“We’ve identified the need to have much greater depth in our training,” said Alexander. “One person can’t run the system 24/7. We need multiple people to know how to run the systems.”