Role-playing Airmen put disaster responders on the record

Delivering vital news coverage to the public before, during and after a major disaster may be more the job of the media than the National Guard, but at any domestic emergency, the Guard’s ability to explain its missions and roles is still vital.

That’s why Air Force Master Sgt. Mavi Smith from the Air Guard Training and Education Center in Tennessee, along with eight other service members and civilians here today, were testing Guard members and civilian responders’ ability to talk to the press during a disaster.

“It helps them to appropriately react to the media,” said Smith. “The public need to know what is going on in a real-world situation.”

Hundreds of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska are responding here and in Kansas, June 17-24, as part of Vigilant Guard.

The Des Moines portion of the exercise includes a simulated train derailment and the release of toxic chemicals in the city. Certainly, such a real-world disaster involving injury, death, and evacuations would attract a lot of media attention.

Like real media would, Smith said they try to get as close as possible to the action. Then they put the Guard members on camera and on the record to incorporate their interviews into mock video broadcasts and print products. That news is then seen by exercise leaders at the command centers and joint operations centers.

“Were going to get in here and talk to the incident commander and first responders about what’s going on,” she said, dressed in civilian attire and standing outside the cordoned disaster area.

Elizabeth Alber, the lead for the synthetic media team, said they put the responders through their paces just like any real reporter would.

Their video stories appear in the fictional “World News Network” broadcast, which looks very much like any major network’s evening news show.

“We will engage them, ask them tough questions, make them acknowledge our existence and make them deal with us as they would have to during a real incident and accident,” said Alber, who normally works for the Defense Security Agency in Arlington, Va. “In a worst case scenario, they would fail by not talking to us … by not playing.”

Alber pointed out that in realty if the public were in danger, incident commanders, responders, and others need to engage the media to get the word out to the community.

“Having fictional media allows us to practice without having to get in a circumstance that’s uncomfortable,” said Lt. Col. Tim Glen, commander of the Iowa Guard’s 71st Weapons of Mass Destruction, Civil Support Team.

Glen’s team was the first military responder to the Des Moines exercise, which drew its own share of real-world media interested in their training.

“The more information the better for the public,” said Glen. “Obviously, that’s the theme, and that’s what we support.”

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