A lift from a RAAF C-17A Globemaster has allowed an Australian urban search-and-rescue (USAR) task force 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 from 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 task force.
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 previously deployed Australian USAR teams for disaster relief operations in Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Vanuatu.
Coordinated by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, the scenario for Exercise Shaken Fury centred on a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hitting Tennessee.
Deputy Commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Mark Roche said sending USAR teams to overseas exercises ensured Australia could maintain best practice.
“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 task force 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 task force to build relationships, knowledge and skills to draw on at 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 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.”
Squadron Leader Ben Barber said the deployment for Exercise Shaken Fury signified how far the relationship between Defence and USAR teams had developed.
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,” Squadron Leader 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 Queensland and NSW.
“We keep caches of USAR equipment at Richmond and Amberley so it can be loaded quickly,” Squadron Leader Barber said.
One of the main things the USAR teams learned about was 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,” Squadron Leader 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,” Squadron Leader Barber said.