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By Sgt. Matthew Manning
Earthquakes are a common occurrence for those living in Japan. While most earthquakes are nothing more than a brief shake, some are more damaging, as seen in the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011.
To be prepared in the event of another natural disaster, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler Japan, hosted Exercise Constant Vigilance 2014 here Oct. 28. The exercise involved a disaster drill with multiple agencies and organizations, including the 15th Brigade of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Urasoe City Government, Urasoe City Fire Department, and local on-base and off-base civilian organizations.
“We are excited to show our relationship with the community of Okinawa and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force,” said Col. Edmund J. Bowen, commander, Camp Kinser, MCIPAC. “We truly work together to prepare for disasters.”
Constant Vigilance is an annual MCIPAC exercise designed to validate and refine incident response procedures and train personnel on actions required in the event of a natural disaster. This year’s events focused on Camp Kinser, a Marine Corps camp along the coast close to the densely populated Naha city area.
Training events this year included Okinawan evacuees who have homes along the coastline near the base moving through the gates and along the base roads to reach higher ground, exercising an important Local Implementation Agreement with the city of Urasoe signed in January of this year. During the drill, young U.S. students also moved from the on-base elementary school into high-rise housing towers.
The exercise also marked the first time a civilian emergency helicopter, known as Dr. Heli, landed on the base to rehearse utilizing Camp Kinser an alternate landing zone, enabling movement of patients from across Okinawa to hospitals in Naha when their civilian landing area near the camp might be blocked by a disaster.
Another first for the exercise was the landing of a JGSDF CH-47 helicopter on Camp Kinser, simulating the emergency transport of wounded Marines if Marine Corps aviation assets were unavailable. The CH-47 moved four simulated casualties to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan, on Camp Foster, showcasing the interoperability between the Marines and their JGSDF counterparts.
Bowen said that the Marine Corps’ relationship with JGSDF is strengthened from the continued training and interoperability built over the years. The training is to ensure the future security and stability of both nations, especially with respect to disaster relief. An example of the importance of disaster response training can be seen in the rapid response during Operation Tomodachi, the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011.
During the exercise, the JGSDF also showed Okinawan and U.S. visitors and officials an assortment of disaster preparedness equipment including rescue boats, mobile surgical centers, and water purification equipment. And Urasoe City Fire Department first responders worked hand-in-hand with MCIPAC Fire Department staff to respond to a simulated damaged structure on base, moving victims out with rope suspension techniques in a technical rescue scenario.
“In the time of urgent disasters, our immediate intention is to save as many lives as possible,” said Tetsuji Matsumoto, mayor of Urasoe City. “With that in mind, through the joint training we will find improvements. We will have a discussion on what we can do to give our best.”
The simulated scenario for Constant Vigilance was a response to a magnitude-8.1 earthquake, which was to occur off the Pacific coast of Japan, and create a 5-meter high tsunami wave striking Okinawa.
“We have done a thorough survey of this camp and the lower levels of the camp in the tsunami hazard zone. We gladly open up our gate to let the community through to have access to higher ground,” said Bowen. “As of now, our analysis shows this to be the quickest and most direct route to get to higher ground. An exercise like this gives us the opportunity to collect data and then go back and look at our procedures.”
At the end of the exercise, the bilateral efforts and interoperability demonstrated by the participants was the key to success, according to Bowen.
“Our relationship with the community and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is strong. Today we proved that we have the ability to come together in the wake of a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenario. We showed our abilities and how we interact together well,” said Bowen. “Today was a total success in how we coordinate, communicate and provide services to the entire community in the wake of a disaster.”
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