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NEWS | Feb. 15, 2013

Everyone has a story: Planning is important

By Tech. Sgt. April Wickes 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A natural disaster or major accident can happen on any given day at any given time, so it's important for the men and women at Joint Base Langley-Eustis to be prepared. Luckily, there is at least one person in Wing Plans and Evaluations office who can lead a team of personnel while possessing the tools, experience and know-how to get the job done.

With 16 years of both military and civilian experience in plans and evaluations, Mark Atlow, wing exercise plans specialist for the 633rd Air Base Wing Plans and Evaluations office, is more than qualified to handle the heavy workload that comes with the job.

"I enjoy working and developing exercises, and being able to see people do the things they need to do [to complete the mission]," Atlow said.

His passion was strong enough to continue in XP as a civilian, even after serving 25 years and retiring from the U.S. Air Force.

Atlow is in charge of managing local exercises for JBLE; a job that takes three to four months of planning per exercise. He coordinates exercises using numerous agencies that must work together, through meetings, planning, deficiency tracking and script and report writing. The personnel must also identify objectives, a location, needed resources and deficiencies.

With six to eight exercises per year, planning can be a daunting task. It's important and worthwhile to see the big picture and how everything fits together, Atlow said.

"When you get into planning, you see how everything fits into everything else," said Atlow. "You see how Security Forces responds and what they're responsible for. You see how the Medical Group and Public Affairs fit into disaster preparedness and planning."

Atlow plans natural disaster and major accident exercises to enable the preparedness of JBLE personnel for numerous events. Each exercise is planned in a different scope because these simulations are based on real possible threats to JBLE.

"When we plan the natural disaster exercise, we focus on hurricanes, flooding and tornados," said Atlow. "We tend to plan for these natural disasters because they are the biggest threats to our installation."

According to Atlow, when planning major accidents, the range of events is greater than with natural disasters. There are possibilities of aircraft crashes both on-base or off-base, an active shooter scenario or a terrorist group targeting JBLE because of the various missions of both installations.

The significance of exercises also impacts the base personnel, allowing them to prepare for real world disasters and incidents, which Atlow hopes will never happen.

"Exercises help Airmen build competencies in their respective subject matter areas, reinforce procedural compliance, identify weaknesses detrimental to mission(s), and highlight efficiencies and best practices," said Master Sgt. Mike Knipmeyer, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron joint base emergency manager. "All of these factors contribute to building an Airman's confidence and ability to adapt to events and incidents in a manner that assures mission success."

This initiative to prepare the base can be seen through actions taken prior to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

"Just before the hurricane, we held two exercises," said Atlow. "Everything base personnel did for those exercises, they had to do two to three weeks later during the actual hurricane. It was very beneficial."

While Atlow's experience has prepared him for many challenges, he is preparing for perhaps his biggest test yet; an off-base exercise involving a multitude of external agencies.

"We have to know where their jurisdiction ends and ours begins so lines don't get muddied," he said. "As a military, we have specific guidelines and rules we have to follow and sometimes the local community doesn't understand what our guidelines are and where we can and can't do things; so this exercise is important."

While Atlow and his team have already planned a multitude of exercises from aircraft crashes to active-shooter scenarios, they continue to challenge JBLE to plan and evaluate at all levels.

"Firemen put out fires, but they may not know some of the things they don't do on a daily basis," Atlow said. "It's the same thing with people in all other organizations... If these tasks can't always be put into an exercise, people should still evaluate themselves and hone their skills."

The importance of having XP conduct and monitor exercises is that it places safety and preparedness in the forefront, ensuring JBLE can accomplish its mission.