The National Mass Care Exercise
The National Mass Care Strategy, published in September 2012, provided recommended courses of action for the delivery of improved mass care service to the nation. One of the recommendations was to:
“Conduct an annual national mass care system exercise that focuses on establishing state-to federal coordination systems and integrating staff from key NGOs, faith-based organizations, and the private sector into an effective mass care multi-agency coordination structure.”
The need for an annual national mass care exercise was manifested prior to the publication of the National Mass Care Strategy document. The multiagency coordination issues that arose from the mass care response to Hurricane Ike in Texas led to the development of the first Multiagency Feeding Plan Template in 2009. During discussions about the Feeding Template the concept of a Multiagency Feeding Task Force was raised but there was no consensus on the organization, operation or role of such a task force.
In May 2009 during the State of Florida Hurricane Suiter Exercise a State Multiagency Feeding Task Force was established in order to begin to gain consensus on the mass care task force concept. The exercise also tested the draft Mass Care Feeding and Sheltering Annex to the State of Florida Catastrophic Plan. The difficulty of the scenario, the large number of participants, the variety of federal, state, voluntary and private sector organizations involved and the realistic design created an intense and demanding exercise. Although not billed as a national mass care exercise, the Hurricane Suiter Exercise became one.
The Mass Care portion of the Florida 2012 Statewide Hurricane Gispert Exercise was the largest state mass care exercise ever conducted in the nation. The Exercise was conducted May 21-24, 2012 in Tallahassee, FL. Sixty-four players, controllers and evaluators from 26 federal, state, nongovernmental, private sector and academic agencies representing the whole of the community participated in the exercise. The scenario of a major hurricane threatening the densely populated urban communities of the Tampa Bay region allowed the participants to address a broad expanse of the Mass Care Services Core
The 2012 exercise built on the mass care task force concept and the lessons learned with the Feeding Task Force in the 2009 Hurricane Suiter Exercise. For this exercise the State established 3 mass care task forces: feeding, sheltering and distribution of emergency supplies. An operational procedure was developed and tested for the feeding task force.
The 2013 National Mass Care Exercise was conducted May 20-23, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida in conjunction with the 2013 Florida Statewide Hurricanes “KIRK and LAY” Exercise. Sponsored by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, FEMA and the American Red Cross, 60 players, controllers and evaluators representing the whole community and all levels of government, nongovernment and private sector agencies participated. This Exercise built upon the experience of the 2012 Hurricane Gispert Exercise, the largest national mass care exercise ever conducted.
The 2013 exercise further refined and developed the mass care task force concept. The state only established 2 mass care task forces but each task force (feeding/sheltering) had its own multiagency plan and its own operational procedure, which included checklists for the task force leader and other positions assigned within the task force.
The 2014 National Mass Care Exercise was conducted in conjunction with the 2014 Florida Statewide “Hurricane Jones” Exercise sponsored by the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Over 100 players, controllers and evaluators representing all levels of government, nongovernmental agencies, the private sector and academia participated in the mass care portion of the exercise. Additionally, FEMA and the American Red Cross established response operations off-site to simulate coordinating elements that would be in effect in a real event.
As part of the 2014 exercise, Florida’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) 6 exercised four Mass Care task forces. These task forces included the:
Shelter Task Force (STF)
Feeding Task Force (FTF)
Distribution Task Force (DTF)
Reunification Services Task Force (RSTF)
White Paper: Mass Care Task Force Structure and Function, published in December 2013, attempted to translate the lessons learned during the 2012 and 2013 National Mass Care Exercises into Best Practices for the organization and employment of mass care task forces. The 2014 NMCE validated the process described in the White Paper to be effective and capable of being utilized by states or other large jurisdictions across the nation.
The 2015 National Mass Care Exercise was conducted June 8-10 in Austin, TX. This exercise, designated Critical Mass 2015 was the first to be hosted by another state, Texas, and one with a non-hurricane scenario. The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) must be commended for their perseverance in hosting the exercise while they were fully involved responding to a major flooding event. Even with the constraints, over 75 Mass Care/Emergency Assistance providers actively participated in the NCME representing the whole community: the public, non-governmental organizations, all levels of government and the private sector. No two NMCE’s are the same, the scenarios vary, the objectives are based on what the state would like to test, and the players vary based on the Region and the focus of the exercise. The exercise provided an excellent opportunity to build relationships, provide needed Mass Care/Emergency Assistance training, and a chance to strengthen and develop task force criteria.
Following are some of the commonly expressed thoughts found in feedback from the 2015 NMCE:
• It would be most beneficial if states had standing Task Forces already in place into which national partners could be inserted.
• States need to provide Task Forces with precise direction about what they should be accomplishing.
• All of the Task Forces need to be linked to a common operating picture.
• Task Force Leaders need training on how to manage Task Forces.
• Every state is different and consequently it may not be possible to have a “one-size fits all” protocol for Task Force operations.
2016 National Mass Care Exercise
The 2016 National Mass Care Exercise will be hosted by the state of Missouri and will be held in August 2016.