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June 13, 2013

United Front: Indiana National Guard partners with Israel Home Front Command for training exercise

Search, extraction performed at collapsed IU fraternity house

TERRE HAUTE — A collapsed fraternity house on the Indiana University campus became a training ground for the Indiana National Guard and the Israel Home Front Command this week.

Under sunny skies — but with the predicted threat of a tornado-generating storm moving across Indiana overnight — the search and extraction exercise was a cooperative training that organizers said will likely save lives following future natural disasters or acts of terrorism.

“Naturally, we hope and pray that something like this would never happen,” said Major Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general for the Indiana National Guard. “But if it did happen, I think all of you would expect the response to be quick and to save lives.”

Though the training was hosted on the Indiana University campus, it was originally planned to occur at Indiana State University with the demolition of the Statesman Towers. But when ISU delayed that demolition for a few months, a new location was sought, and IU happened to have some available buildings already marked for the wrecking ball.

The Indiana National Guard hosted the Israel Home Front Command National Search and Rescue Unit in the combined civilian and military exercise. Also participating were IU Emergency Management and Continuity, Bloomington Fire Department, Homeland Security Task Force 1, Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, Indiana State Police, and ZAKA, which is an Israeli emergency response organization.

The scenario for the exercise was that an EF 5 level tornado, similar to the real ones that struck Moore, Okla., in May, strikes Indiana. The scenario is relevant to Indiana as more than 50 EF 5 level tornadoes have struck the Hoosier state since 1950. An EF 4 level tornado struck Henryville in spring 2012.

With the partial demolition of the 70-bed fraternity house, the trainers stabilized the structure and placed mannequins inside to be retrieved. The teams worked together to break and lift concrete, cut steel, work with ropes and practice confined space rescues.

Umbarger called the exercise a “scrimmage” of how the various responding agencies would work together, as the fire department arrived first, along with IU Emergency Management, and then Task Force 1 was requested, followed by a request for National Guard assistance.

Major Gen. Eyal Eizenberg of the Israeli unit pointed out that the major threat to public safety in Israel is war, whereas in America, the major threat is natural disaster.

“Both have the same consequences, and we need to deal with it,” he said. “Therefore, we have a lot in common.”

The training was definitely a learning lesson for the Israeli group, said Col. Amir Golan.

In Israel, when the military is called to a scene, they take control of everything — civilians, police and emergency responders. But with this exercise, the team had to learn that the American response is to have multiple agencies work together on specific tasks.

“We didn’t understand how complicated it is, and it took a while for us to adopt the system,” Golan said. “But I think going out from here, it will be a very important lesson for us. We will keep that in mind in the future.”

The exercise was not the first time that Hoosiers and Israelis had worked together in emergency missions. In 2010, teams from both countries responded to Haiti to provide relief efforts following the devastating earthquake.

“Haiti was different,” Golan said. “They had no hospitals, no infrastructure, or government, and no control of the situation. Here, you will still have hospitals and fire brigades and infrastructure and government to keep things under control.”

Major Gen. Gerald Ketchum of the National Guard Bureau and director of domestic operations and force development, said the realistic training has been a world class and unique opportunity because of its complexity and the agencies involved.

“The National Guard has a number of international partners. We highly value the Israel Home Front Command,” Ketchum said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of our citizens, whether they be in Israel, or here in the U.S.”

Terre Haute Tribune-Star reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter@TribStarLisa.

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