How would emergency vehicles, supplies and personnel move across the Potomac River in the event of disaster if the bridges were not an option?
That was the question addressed by an exercise undertaken by the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area last Thursday as a former U.S. Army LCM-8, dubbed "Red Cross 1," discharged emergency vehicles onto the shore of West Potomac Park. It was conducted in cooperation with numerous area and federal partners as well as other local Red Cross chapters.
Nicholas Peake, a former employee of the Alexandria Chapter, American Red Cross, was the originator of the exercise, known as JLOTS [Joint-Logistics-Over-The-Shore], when he was assigned to WMAC, Washington Area Consortium, a group of local Red Cross chapters that includes Arlington, Prince William and National Capital in addition to Alexandria. He now works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.
During the demonstrations, the Alexandria chapter's emergency response vehicle [ERV] and others were transported by the LCM [Landing Craft Mechanized] from various locations on the Virginia side of the river to various drop points on the D.C. side. Tests were conducted in the Anacostia River and the Washington Channel as well as the Potomac.
"We have never moved our vehicles across the water before. This is a first for us," said Julia Wright, executive director, Alexandria Red Cross Chapter.
"We are here to test the concept of transporting people, supplies and equipment across the river in the event of a disaster and the bridges are not operative or totally clogged," explained Linda Mathes, CEO, National Capital Area Chapter, Red Cross.
"The Red Cross has to respond to emergencies everyday. As a part of that response we have to explore use of the waterways," she said.
"In case of a national emergency, traffic could well be jammed. This can apply to either terrorist attacks or events of nature," said Charles K. Blake, senior director, Emergency and International Services, Red Cross National Capital Area. "During such time we have to provide supplies and equipment."
Blake noted, "The Potomac River is part of our emergency response planning. This is a test of the overall operations in collaboration with a number of federal and local agencies as well as private
THE OLD LCM, painted white with a Red Cross emblazoned on its side, had been brought in from the Tidewater Area for this event. It was originally designed for military landing operations in World War II to move equipment and personnel onto beaches such as Normandy during D-Day.
However, no LCM's are located in the local area on a regular basis. "They can be here in about 24 hours," said Blake.
When asked why the Red Cross was undertaking this operation when the military already has the capability to perform the same services, Blake said, "The military has their own priorities in times of such emergencies. We have to be prepared."
Blake added, "We are looking at a variety of options that include pontoon bridges, air and rail capabilities. Everything is being done on a regional approach."
WMAC's structure was designed to promote cooperation across all service areas and chapter administrations of the local area Red Cross, according to their literature. "However, following 9-11, the WMAC effort has been focused on developing a coordinated response to a large disaster among the five chapters," it states.
As explained during the operation, the 74-foot steel craft can carry ambulances, food kitchens, other vital vehicles and equipment and discharge them onto the shore under their own power. It has a cargo area of 42 by 14 feet with a capacity of 60 tons and a speed of nine knots. It's loaded draft is only four feet seven inches, which enables the LCM to travel in relatively shallow waters.
IN ADDITION TO WMAC, some of the other partners for the week- long exercises included Metropolitan Police Department, Harbor Patrol, National Park Service, U.S.Navy and Coast Guard, U.S. Park Police, the U.S.Department of Homeland Security and several private companies.