When Bill Irwin asked me if I wanted to participate as a ROSS in Vibrant Response 16, an Improvised Nuclear Detonation (IND) exercise in Pennsylvania, I still didn’t fully appreciate what the role entailed. Still, I jumped at the opportunity to learn and engage with the national response.
It was a big learning curve for me as the ROSS training course had not even been conducted yet. I dug into DOE and NCRP guidance on consequence management for INDs. I found what I could and read a lot, but the experience provided by participating in the exercise is what really solidified the ROSS role for me and motivated me to participate in as many other ROSS exercise opportunities as I can.
While the exercise coordinator knew I was coming, I had to brief the FRMAC players and Senior Federal Official as to what a ROSS was and could do, my first ROSS elevator speech. When I showed up to the Pennsylvania State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), the Pennsylvania Chief of the Bureau of Radiation Protection (BRP) only found out the day before I was coming and the Emergency Management Staff never heard of a ROSS….elevator speech number two!
Once the exercise started, the BRP chief, BRP staff and FRMAC team all embraced the ROSS and used me to validate their plans to help in communications throughout the SEOC. I participated in FRMAC calls to the home team, helped set priorities for the BRP, helped identify what FRMAC products were needed and even helped with team briefings. The real benefit of being the ROSS was summed up in a comment form one of the federal players who told me, “You [the ROSS] did what I could never do as a federal official, tell them they were wrong.” Because I was prepared, learned the material and was willing to be assertive as the ROSS, I was able to challenge decisions made by the state, federal officials, and even the unified command. The informed, candid ROSS engagements helped to ensure a more effective response.
The After Action Report from the two evaluators that followed me was based on interviews of State and federal responders that participated in the exercise.