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National Guard base hosts Az’s largest comm testing exercise
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National Guard base hosts Az’s largest comm testing exercise

  • The “Blue Ox,” shown above, would serve as a command center in the event of a major emergency in Arizona. The giant trailer was on hand during Vital Connection, a exercise testing the ability of various agencies to communicate in the event of disaster.
    Whitney Phillips/Cronkite News ServiceThe “Blue Ox,” shown above, would serve as a command center in the event of a major emergency in Arizona. The giant trailer was on hand during Vital Connection, a exercise testing the ability of various agencies to communicate in the event of disaster.
  • Participants learned how a range of communication systems would interact in the case of a disaster. There were 40 organizations represented at the communication exercise ranging from federal to local.
    Whitney Phillips/Cronkite News ServiceParticipants learned how a range of communication systems would interact in the case of a disaster. There were 40 organizations represented at the communication exercise ranging from federal to local.
  • Walt Slocumb, a corporal with the Glendale Police Department, also serves as the operations officer for the Blue Ox. Slocumb was one of over 200 people participating in the exercise.
    Whitney Phillips/Cronkite News ServiceWalt Slocumb, a corporal with the Glendale Police Department, also serves as the operations officer for the Blue Ox. Slocumb was one of over 200 people participating in the exercise.

PHOENIX — Should disaster strike in Arizona, agencies from city fire departments to federal organizations would have to communicate effectively in order to carry out their duties.

The challenge is that federal, state and city communication systems don’t usually have to interact with each other, and that could hinder those who are responsible for saving lives.

“Phoenix Fire is used to talking to Phoenix P.D. or Tempe because they do that every day,” said Judy Kioski, lead public information officer for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. “The trickier part is to communicate with all those levels of government.”

For that reason, 40 government, tribal and volunteer agencies are participating in Arizona’s largest-ever communications testing exercise to ensure that they can stay in contact during a disaster.

The four–day exercise, sponsored by U.S. Northern Command in partnership with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, puts agencies in a mock emergency to see how their communications systems work with one another.

This communications test is in preparation for a larger, statewide exercise set to take place in November. Kioski said the larger exercise will involve about 5,000 individual participants representing 250 agencies.

The simulation will begin as a state emergency and expand, which is why agencies like Customs and Border Protection mingle with police departments at the exercise.

“We work as many of those (agencies) in as possible to see what resources they can provide,” said Walt Slocumb, a corporal with the Glendale Police Department. “We’ve got to be able to talk to everyone.”

Border Patrol agent Jason Rheinfrank said since this is the first time Customs and Border Protection has participated in an event like this, it should prove to be a valuable learning experience.

“We’re all here to come together to be on one page for any type of disaster response,” Rheinfrank said.

The exercise, which ends Sept. 15, cost U.S. Northern Command about $150,000, according to 1st Lt. Valentine Castillo, an Arizona National Guard spokesman.

For Arizona, the key to agencies like Customs and Border Protection communicating with local groups lies partly in a vehicle carrying the code name Blue Ox. The giant trailer owned by Glendale would serve as command center in the event of a disaster.

“The most important thing is it gives all agencies real-time information and the ability to cooperate,” said Slocumb, who is also operations officer for the Blue Ox.

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