A lift from a RAAF C-17A Globemaster has allowed an Australian Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Taskforce to exercise with international peers in the United States.
Departing from RAAF Base Amberley, the contingent of 60 personnel flew to Indiana for Exercise Shaken Fury over June 2-9.
Air Movements personnel from Number 23 Squadron loaded 14 tonnes of specialist equipment on the C-17A along with the Australian USAR Taskforce.
The successful move highlighted the efforts made by Defence and Australian USAR teams in the past decade to ensure they can be deployed at short-notice.
RAAF C-17A and C-130J crews have deployed Australian USAR teams for disaster relief operations in Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, and Vanuatu.
Regular engagement between Defence and USAR teams – such as through training activities like Exercise Shaken Fury – ensure that they can be deployed to save lives in future.
Coordinated by the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the scenario for Exercise Shaken Fury centred on a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hitting Tennessee.
Sending USAR teams to overseas exercises ensures Australia can maintain best practice, according to Deputy Commissioner for Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), Mark Roche.
“This exercise was an opportunity for all involved to foster inter-agency cooperation, share information on operational procedures, research, equipment and training,” Mr Roche said.
“It was also an excellent opportunity for our personnel to showcase their knowledge, skills and abilities and learn from established and respected USAR teams.”
The USAR taskforce included members of the Departments of Home Affairs, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Fire and Rescue NSW and QFES.
Much like how the RAAF trains with other Air Forces, Exercise Shaken Fury was an opportunity for the USAR taskforce to build relationships, knowledge and skills to serve them on future disaster relief events.
“The exercise has helped strengthen our national and state response during disasters and improved our ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from major incidents,” Mr Roche said.
“It is the continued maintenance of these capabilities that afford QFES significant international recognition and respect as a USAR team.”
The deployment for Exercise Shaken Fury signified how far the relationship has developed between Defence and USAR Teams, according to Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Ben Barber.
Having previously worked as an Air Movements Officer at RAAF Base Richmond, he is now posted as the Movements Flight Commander at RAAF Base Amberley.
“Both sides have come a long way since our interactions in 2011, when Air Force deployed USAR Teams following earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan,” SQNLDR Barber said.
“In slow time, we’ve brought USAR Teams to Air Movements Sections at Richmond and Amberley to go through what equipment is safe to fly, and plan how it is palletised to ensure minimal delays.”
Australia maintains two internationally accredited USAR capabilities in QLD and NSW.
“We keep caches of USAR equipment at Richmond and Amberley so it can be loaded quickly,” SQNLDR Barber said.
One of the bigger education pieces for USAR Teams has been the management of payload and weight management, including equipment that requires fuel or batteries to operate in a disaster area.
USAR Teams had previously been accustomed to deploying via road transport, bringing fewer restrictions on the carriage of dangerous goods or heavy cargo.
“If USAR teams have specialist equipment, or were buying new equipment, they needed to ensure it was either free from dangerous goods, or could be easily prepared for transport on a C-17A or C-130J,” SQNLDR Barber said.
The teams often need to be largely self-sufficient when deploying, which brings issues of weight management of their cargo, especially if they’re bringing water.
“When deploying on a truck, a pallet of water might not be an issue, but when you’re travelling on an aircraft that weight can impact the remaining payload and aircraft range,” SQNLDR Barber said.
“There was an education piece for Air Force members here as well, which we conducted through the Air Force Leadership Companion and through a video produced by the Centre of Defence Leadership and Ethics.”