On September 21st, 2015, NERAC hosted the Cache Equipment Deployment Tabletop Exercise at the NERAC Equipment Cache Site in Beverly, MA. A tabletop exercise is a discussion-based session where selected participants meet to respond to a simulated emergency scenario intended to identify, examine, and resolve potential obstacles in existing operational plans. This exercise was designed to measure the efficacy of the Regional Cache Program’s “Cache Rules for Borrowing” policy and test the capability of the cache sites to deploy equipment in an emergency situation. NERAC established the Regional Cache Program in 2007 to provide the region’s municipalities with critical emergency response equipment necessary to restore infrastructure and care for their citizens during emergencies. To date, NERAC has invested over $3.8 million into this system to provide large resources that cannot be justifiably purchased and maintained by individual communities. The “Cache Rules for Borrowing” policy provides a detailed hierarchy of the priority of requests for Cache equipment. This hierarchy takes into account factors such as whether or not the requesting entity isa NERAC community and whether the requesting entity is responding to an emergency.
In the exercise scenario, a terrorist attack resulted in widespread power outages across the region, interrupting 4th of July celebrations. Representatives from each of NERAC’s three Cache Host Communities (Beverly, Framingham, and Lexington) participated in the exercise, responding to simulated borrowing requests crafted to strain the supply of the Cache Sites as well as the “Cache Rules for Borrowing”. The participants were challenged to manage a large influx of simulated requests from affected municipalities for equipment needed to respond to the hazards that accompany power outages, including generators, electronic message boards, sheltering supplies, and communications equipment.
Planning for the exercise began in January, 2015, when the NERAC Council first decided that it would be beneficial to formally test the policies and procedures of the Regional Cache Program, one of the most invaluable resources the Council provides to the region. A consultant was hired to develop, document, and facilitate the exercise and a planning committee was formed. The planning team (which included representatives from the NERAC Council, the NERAC Cache Committee, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, MAPC, and the Cache Host Communities) convened with the consultant regularly in the months leading up to the event to refine the specifics of the exercise.
The exercise was very successful and brought to light the many strengths of the NERAC Cache Program, as well as the hard work of the dedicated Host Community personnel that manage the program. As a result of the exercise, NERAC will look into the possibility of hosting instructional trainings on the use of the more complex equipment available at the cache sites, such as the portable communications tower and the larger towable generators, which would normally require expertise to operate. Additionally, an investment into an electronic real time inventory tracking system for the Cache Site Host Communities will be explored. The Cache Equipment Deployment Tabletop Exercise provided NERAC with a valuable opportunity to evaluate and further enhance the service that it provides to communities across the region.