GROTON, Conn. – Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London practiced responding to the needs of service members and families following a hurricane during an Emergency Family Assistance Center (EFAC) drill conducted at the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum, August 19.
The drill simulated establishing an EFAC in a COVID-19 pandemic environment and responding to expected, as well as unusual, simulated scenarios EFAC staff may encounter.
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, and emergencies such fires and accidents, can impact the base and its personnel. SUBASE New London’s Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) works within the Base’s emergency operations center hierarchy and established plans to provide support services and respond to the needs of personnel and families after such disasters through an EFAC.
“Normally those services are carried out at Fleet and Family, but in a COVID environment we may not be able to do that, so we came up with an off-site location where they can maintain physical distancing,” said Cmdr. Brad Boyd, officer-in-charge of Historic Ship Nautilus (SSN 571), whose Museum parking lot hosted the event.
For Barbara Ross, FFSC director, the Museum site and its parking lot offered the opportunity to setup the EFAC as a drive-thru with stations for each service available to families.
“The drive-thru concept really offers us a chance to think outside the box in our service delivery while meeting Navy and Connecticut COVID-19 mitigation guidelines. With temperature checks for every individual entering the EFAC and requiring mandatory masks we increase everyone’s safety,” said Ross.
Delivery may have been outside the box, but the support services were all those typically expected, noted Boyd.
“Let’s say you have a natural disaster and need access to financial aspects,” said Boyd. “We have Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, we have Navy Federal and other services. If you’re distressed we have the chaplains here. If you have school issues or anything like that, we have representatives from Fleet and Family. The way it’ll work is when people first enter we ask them what they need and direct them to the station or stations and they wait in que in their car until they can be served.”
The drill included role-players who played out scenarios that might affect families in the aftermath of a hurricane. Situations ranged from a spouse who did not speak English to a frantic woman fearing the world was about to end.
“Of course, we had mundane scenarios as well,” said Ross. “One of the role players arrived with a chainsaw and a branch clipper in her car. She was looking to find someone to help her use the chainsaw because her husband was deployed. That is something that a spouse would do. If they’re like me, they always want to be independent.”
Ross added that after the drills were completed and the support providers involved debriefed, she felt extremely satisfied with the evolution and feels optimistic about FFSC’s ability to respond to potential crises going forward.
“The COVID environment that we are all living in right now required that we look again at how an EFAC is set up,” said Ross. “With distancing and hygiene, we can’t do it the way we used to, but we have to take care of our families. We thought if we could borrow the concept of a drive-thru similar to what organizations in the community have started to do, maybe we could create our own version and be safe while helping families. I think we proved the concept and that a drive-thru EFAC works. I hope we never have to use it in real-life, but it’s good to be prepared.”
Sailors and families who want to learn more about FFSC support or an EFAC can do so by calling (860) 694-3383 or going to https://www.facebook.com/FleetandFamilySupportCenterNewLondon/.