Important exercise in civil-military cooperation

– This sort of comprehensive exercise, involving us from the civilian world and the Armed Forces, is something we should do more often. I have already learned some very useful lessons, even though the exercise hasn’t finished – not least that we know very little about different types of munitions, says Mikael Pettersson, from the Gotland rescue services.

One of the benefits of the exercise is cooperation, and the opportunity to get to know colleagues in other authorities and agencies. Photo: Jimmy Croona/Swedish Armed Forces
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel from the Armed Forces and the Police work on a task together. In the picture, the Armed Forces’ EOD database (EOD IS) is used to find information about the munition to be made safe. Photo: Jimmy Croona/Swedish Armed Forces
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel from the Armed Forces and the Police work on a task together. In the picture, the Armed Forces’ EOD database (EOD IS) is used to find information about the munition to be made safe. Photo: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

Mikael Pettersson breathes out after a couple of intensive hours. He has been in charge of a large scale rescue operation following an air attack at Visby Airport during Exercise Aurora 17. The Commander of the Swedish EOD and Demining Centre (Swedec), Colonel Fredrik Zetterberg, has overall responsibility for the incident.

EXERCISE AIR ATTACK ON GOTLAND

Shortly after half past ten, the exercise began as hostile aircraft swept in over the airfield. During the attack cluster bombs, some of which failed to detonate, were dropped on military locations and a civilian marketplace. The attack resulted in a number of shocked and injured, and several deaths. The casualties were played very credibly by, among others, students from the Wisby High School healthcare program and Red Cross personnel.

As the exercise progressed, more and more rescue resources arrived. At an early stage, the rescue leader, Mikael Pettersson, realized the extent of the incident and declared an emergency.

– My first assessment was that we needed 30 ambulances and, of course, we don’t usually have access to those sorts of resources at short notice here on Gotland, he says.

– I was a bit worried about how things would work with the military, but it worked out really well, says ambulance nurse, Sara Jansson.

As the first nurse on site, she was automatically put in charge of all medical efforts throughout the rescue operation.

ARMED FORCES RESOURCES ARRIVE

Half an hour after the alarm, the first Armed Forces medical personnel arrived in a light armoured vehicle. Shortly afterwards, additional military ambulances arrived with a command vehicle from the Gotland Forward Headquarters (FHQ).

For the purposes of this exercise during Aurora 17, one of the Armed Forces' field hospital companies, with its advanced medical facilities in the form of operating theatres and trauma units, deployed just outside Visby several days ago – a company now ready to receive the injured from the attack.

– First of all, the medical officer in charge makes an initial assessment of the condition of each casualty. I’d also like to point out that, in medical terms, we make no distinction between civilian or military personnel. The patient with the greatest need for treatment, based on their injury, is taken care of first, regardless of whether they are civilian or military. Once this assessment, or as we say “triage”, is done, further triage occurs when patients arrive at our emergency reception, because the patient's condition may have deteriorated or improved during transportation, explains the exercise leader, Lieutenant Colonel Lennart Borneklint, from the Armed Forces Centre for Defence Medicine, and he continues:

– A real test for our company will come on Monday, when we will carry out a major medical evacuation using the large C17 Globemaster transport aircraft. There will be space for 21 stretchers where we’ll be able to provide advanced medical care, but the challenge for us is to keep patients alive during transport to the airport and the aircraft, while not draining the company of too many personnel.

FINAL TASK – EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL (EOD)

The exercise finished with Armed Forces’ EOD personnel, in collaboration with Police EOD technicians, conducting a clearance of unexploded munitions.

– What we have seen today, at a fairly low level, is how we are fulfilling directives given to the Armed Forces by Parliament in the most recent Defence Bill, namely that we will increase our overall capability and, together with civilian actors, create a stronger total defence. Then we always see areas that we need to practice more, but this is a very good start, says Colonel Fredrik Zetterberg.