DEMA partners with Luke Air Force Base to practice search and rescue response

DEMA partners with Luke Air Force Base to practice search and rescue response

DEMA Search and Rescue Coordinator Jesse Robinson meets with Luke Air Force Base Pilot

Emergencies can have affects that require the response of multiple agencies. During responses, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) works collectively with other agencies, including federal, tribal, state and local governments, to provide emergency management capabilities. Recently, DEMA collaborated with Luke Air Force Base to practice their response to an aircraft incident. Through this partnership, DEMA provided Search and Rescue (SAR) and technical communications support during this full-scale exercise. 

Exercises are designed to include many working components. By practicing how to strategize, testing plans, and responding to complex scenarios, state agencies and the military strengthen emergency response efforts and partnerships. During this exercise, players responded to a simulated aircraft incident where one pilot lands safely and the other pilot ejected from the aircraft in a remote area.  Concerned about the health and safety of the pilots and the hazardous material threats from the crashed planes, participants used their skills and expertise to respond under the same pressure of a real-life emergency.

Jesse Robinson, DEMA Search and Rescue (SAR) Coordinator, was a lead responder in mobilizing search and rescue assets. Robinson’s role during an actual SAR mission is to coordinate emergency response for individuals who are lost, injured, stranded or deceased in remote, and most times, inaccessible terrain. During the exercise, Luke Air Force Base notified Robinson of the need for SAR resources. Robinson worked in conjunction with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety to coordinate officers and search and rescue volunteers. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center was included in the response, as Robinson requested additional support from the Civil Air Patrol, a non-profit that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force that can assist in search and rescue emergencies.

“By participating in field and table top exercises, DEMA establishes trusting relationships with partner agencies to reach one goal, to save lives” says Robinson. “Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it increases awareness, identifies responsibilities and where support can be found during an emergency.”

The DEMA Communications Department, the State’s hub for radio and technical communications support during emergencies, also participated in the exercise. The State Mobile Emergency Communications Center, known as the “Bullfrog,” deployed to Luke Air Force Base to monitor radio frequencies for aircraft involved in the exercise. In addition, the Bullfrog also provided interoperable communications through a range of radio frequencies that ensured the ability to cross-communicate. The Bullfrog also provided internet and wireless capabilities for participants.

 “The interoperable communications offered in the Bullfrog is important when working with Luke Air Force Base on an exercise or emergency,” says Morgan Hoaglin, DEMA Communications Supervisor. “Being ready with interoperable communications was extremely valuable to the success of the exercise.”

In the Bullfrog, DEMA staff met with volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol. An Air Force pilot assisted in deciphering and deconstructing radio messaging produced by pilots and those monitoring the site where the simulated pilot incident occurred.

“Controlling chaos in an emergency is much easier for responders when they have knowledge of resources available and their capabilities. Building that trust between responding agencies is the key to success,” says Robinson.