NLE 2011: MAY DRILL MARKED 200 YEARS SINCE NEW MADRID EARTHQUAKE
This year’s National Level Exercise (NLE 2011) centered on a catastrophic earthquake in the heart of the United States that could send evacuees streaming into Texas and other areas. The five-day exercise involved a host of state and federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and several states in FEMA Region VI. It was held in mid-May.
A major earthquake destroying highways, bridges and even cities in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and neighboring states in the Middle Western states may seem like the stuff of Hollywood, but it’s a potential threat. This is the 200th anniversary of one of the worst quakes in U.S. history. The New Madrid earthquake of 1811, estimated to be at least 8.0 in magnitude, leveled small settlements, sank forests under water, created Reelfoot lake in Tennessee and continued sending aftershocks up and down the Mississippi and points east and west for more than a year.
Texas is one of the FEMA Region VI states which would be assisting Arkansas through the Interstate Emergency Response Support Plan (IERSP) during such a disaster. The Texas Division of Emergency Management sent Regional Liaison Officer, Al Guarino, and TDEM’s new State Coordinator for Preparedness, Chuck Phinney, to Arkansas to participate. Two officers with Texas Military Forces also participated.
National Level Exercises are mandated by the U.S. Congress and directed by the White House. They provide an opportunity for multiple federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector entities to practice coordinating during a mega-disaster. These exercises are an opportunity to test communications capabilities, public information and warning systems, critical resource distribution (logistics), mass care, evacuation and sheltering, management of Emergency Operations Centers and long-term recovery systems.
RLO Al Guarino said: “It was very beneficial for us to participate (because) we were able to validate the Interstate Emergency Response Support Plan. We proved that the concept is no longer conceptual. It is now something we’re able to implement.” Guarino added that important “lessons learned” from the exercise will make the IERSP “more efficient as well as more responsive to the needs of a stricken state.”
More than a year of preparation went into this year’s NLE, reported to be the largest natural disaster exercise in U.S. history. Previous NLE scenarios have involved attacks by terrorist groups.
NLE 2011 is a Tier I National Level Exercise. Tier I exercises were formerly known as the Top Officials exercise series or TOPOFF and they are considered a key component in national preparedness. These exercises provide federal, state and local officials an opportunity to test capabilities and coordination in realistic settings and scenarios. Both response and recovery capabilities are tested and it is hoped that participants will gain valuable insights for future planning.
For more information on the National Level Exercise Program, see:
For more information on New Madrid and earthquake preparedness issues, see:
Earthquake Hazard in the Heart of the Homeland
This fact sheet describes the overall seismic hazard threat in the central and eastern United States.
Front Page Photo: NLE 11 participants at the FEMA Region VI Regional Response Coordination Center. Photo courtesy of Earl Armstrong, FEMA.