by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher S. Haley
SASEBO, Japan (Feb. 2, 2015) Commander Fleet Activities Sasebo held its annual Noncombatant Evacuation Operation drill Jan. 26.
The exercise gave families and non-emergency essential civilians and contractors an opportunity to familiarize themselves with evacuation protocol in the event of an actual emergency such as a natural disaster or attack on Japan.
“We had three goals that were accomplished during the exercise,” said CFAS Emergency Management Officer Dwayne Williford. “Educate the community on their requirements and the NEO procedures, provide an opportunity for our staff to train on their NEO tasks, and to utilize lessons learned to support our efforts to rewrite or update our current NEO policy and guidance.”
The drill was held in the Fleet Fitness Center. The 130 volunteer “evacuees” walked into the facility where military personnel logged them into a database using their passports. The data was then used to create a wrist band with their important data on it. Personnel from departments such as the Personnel Support Detachment, Legal, Fleet Family Support Center, Veterinary Services, and the Vehicle Registration Office then assisted them through the steps of the evacuation process. This ensured that their pets were ready for travel, paperwork necessary for exiting the country was in order, legal needs were met and that their homes and vehicles would be safeguarded while they were away.
“I’m glad that the command unit is getting organized to do this because you never know when we’ll have to evacuate in case of an emergency,” said Marie Schulthies, a drill participant. “We are going through each table and getting ourselves organized with information that we need for our pets and our children, and with the information we need in case we have to evacuate.”
The need for NEO exercises is a practical necessity based upon recent history. Hundreds of military family members voluntarily evacuated after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The tsunami was triggered by an 8.9 offshore earthquake. The wave reached up to 23 feet and was followed for hours by aftershocks, many of which were more than magnitude 6.
According to Williford, CFAS’ exercise helped to improve readiness, test or develop equipment, concepts and tactical procedures, and record “lessons learned” to implement any needed changes to the current NEO plan.
The NEO exercise was part of Exercise Keen Edge. Keen Edge is a biennial U.S. Pacific Command sponsored, joint bilateral U.S. and Japan exercise that prepares U.S. Forces Japan personnel in the defense of Japan.
CFAS enables 13 forward-deployed Naval forces and 26 tenant commands across 11 geographic locations, supporting a community of 7,000 Sailors, civilians, and family members. It has received awards for Safety, Environmental, Zumwalt Lodging, Golden Anchor, Food Service, and the 2015 Region Japan Installation of the Year.