Operation: Harrisburg (Five State Response)

PDF Version: Harrisburg AAR

After Action Report


On February 29th, 2012, an EF4 tornado touched down and caused extensive damage in Harrisburg, IL, damaging and outright destroying dozens of homes and commercial buildings.  Part of a larger storm system, the Harrisburg tornado was one of several that TR responded to.  At the time, it was the only one in Region 5, thus prompting a local, R5-led recovery effort.

The scope of the disaster prompted TR to act immediately.  Region 5 leadership worked with TR HQ to plan the mission while still on the road to conduct the initial site assessment.  Once on the ground, a small 2-man assessment team worked with adjacent relief agencies such as Disaster Relief And Disaster Training (DRADT) and Operation Blessing to plan and integrate a TR mission into the local authorities relief plan.

Once committed, TR quickly mobilized and deployed volunteers from Region 5 to Harrisburg.  Due to both credibility and effective networking efforts, TR was allowed behind the police cordon to operate in the DZ two days before the formal, local authority sponsored relief effort began.  With 12 TR volunteers, the TR Harrisburg mission accomplished the following:

  • Conducted initial site recon, established TR objectives in tornado stricken areas of Harrisburg, IL.
  • Established firm relationships with local and state police representatives, as well as adjacent relief organizations.
  • Established rally points and bed‐down locations for incoming TR volunteers.
  • Conducted 3 days of TR relief operations in tornado stricken area.
  • Provided interviews to ABC News.

Additionally, during TR Harrisburg, another tornado touched down in the vicinity of Henryville, IN.  While Region 5 was focused in on Harrisburg, a TR response team was organized and launched by TR Region 3.  Nevertheless, by day 4 of TR Harrisburg, adjacent relief efforts were progressed enough that the majority of the TR Harrisburg volunteers were able to disengage and be re-deployed to assist in TR Henryville.

The primary lessons learned from TR Harrisburg involve improving command and control, with both physical assets as well as a standardization of chain of command and delegation procedures.  Regarding physical assets, the mission pointed to the need of a mobile command and control center, similar to the RV’s used by DRADT and Operation Blessing.  In conjunction with that, the transfer of volunteers to TR Henryville illustrated the need to standardize chain of command and delegation procedures.  Though ultimately the problems were resolved, there were initially several personality-driven friction problems when the TR Harrisburg volunteers were integrated with TR Henryville.

Nonetheless, with minimal planning and notification, TR Harrisburg was a resounding success.  Along with the concurrent TR missions that week, TR Harrisburg served as a confirmation of the flexibility and durability of the budding TR-Domestic model of operations.  With additional fine tuning, the lessons learned from March 2012 will be incorporated into future operations to greatly increase TR functionality and operational capacity.

Operation Overview


TR Harrisburg


4 days


29 Feb – 3 Mar 2012


Harrisburg, IL


Chainsaw Strike Teams


Main body




6 (Lunkes, McNulty, McNulty, McCloskey, Niehls, Devore)

*NOTE: Below is total for the five state tornado response. That includes responses in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Western Kentucky.






















Operation Summary

TR Harrisburg occurred within a few weeks of the establishment of TR Region 5 (MN, WI, IL, MI, IN, and OH).  Much of the work that went into pre-deployment coordination effectively served as the administrative foundation of the regional leadership team itself.  All initial communication between the Region 5 Director of Field Operations (effectively the TR Harrisburg site lead) and the TR Harrisburg volunteer force was fielded through the TR National Director of Field Operations, while all involved were driving towards Harrisburg.  A rally point was established in a cluster of hotels in nearby Marion, IL.  Set directly off the main highway (I-57), Marion was untouched by the tornado, yet still within 20 minutes of the affected areas of Harrisburg.

The R5 DoFO and first volunteers to arrive served as the TR Harrisburg recon element.  Additional volunteers were coordinated remotely by the Region 5 Director of Business Operations via orgaction and email.  Once in the vicinity of Marion / Harrisburg, the new volunteers linked up with the R5 DoFO and were billeted in one of two hotel rooms.

From the rally point in Marion, TR volunteers staged in a convoy of 5 – 6 vehicles and travelled 20 minutes east into Harrisburg.  The primary tornado-affected area in Harrisburg was a residential neighborhood behind a large Walmart.  The Walmart parking lot serve as a convenient assembly area; before travelling into the DZ, TR members conducted briefings, walkthroughs, and further consolidated gear so as to limit the number of vehicles necessary to transport the team past the police cordon (space considerations).  Daily activities were determined as per coordination made each night prior with state and local authorities, as well as adjacent relief organizations.  Most activities included clearing fallen trees, placing tarps over holes in houses, and assisting residents with other debris removal.  At the end of each day, a debrief was conducted in the assembly area, gear and personnel were accounted for, and the team retrograded to Marion via convoy.   When the mission was declared complete, TR Harrisburg conducted one final debrief in Marion before disbanding.


1. Transportation

Summary: With a few exceptions, every TR volunteer drove his or POV to the Harrisburg / Marion area.  Steps were taken to minimize the number of vehicles allowed inside the affected areas / cordon, but generally every member had a car.

Recommendation: While this had certain advantages, it is in TR’s best interest to encourage ride sharing.

Action: -Short term: facilitate ride sharing amongst volunteers (OrgAction feature?). Long term: establish TR “node cities,” volunteers drive / park there, bus to disaster location

2. Staging Area

Summary: TR staging area was divided between the rally point (Marion Hotels), and an assembly area immediately outside the DZ (Walmart parking lot).  Approximate travel time between was 20 minutes.

Recommendation: Emergency C2 increases with proximity to the DZ; recommend future staging occur as close as possible to the DZ.  Also, staging area must include ample space to park POVs, conduct briefings, rehearsals, etc.

Action: -Utilize mobile command center vehicles (trailers / RVs / vans) to berth key personnel as close as possible to the DZ. Expand berthing options to include camping and other expeditionary options.

3. Volunteers

Summary: 12 TR volunteers were sourced from 4 of the 6 States that comprise TR R5.  2 were recruited on site (1 Air Force veteran, 1 Corrections Officer).  The number could have been greater, however, there was no clear protocol regarding mileage and expense reimbursement, which limited the number of volunteers fielded.  Additionally, task organization of volunteers was in flux for most of the mission.

Recommendation: Mileage and Expenses protocol MUST BE STANDARDIZED for use by team leaders.  Team leaders must improve / accelerate task organization of incoming volunteers.

Action: -TR HQ standardizes mileage and expense protocol. Future TR mission leaders establish task organization as early as possible. Continue to recruit local veterans to TR (they are highly motivated / serve as excellent guides).

4. EOC Coordination

Summary: TR Harrisburg’s initial EOC coordination was conducted through contacts we made through DRADT.  Though we were given generous access to local authorities, it was brokered through a 3rd party relief organization.  A key observation was made that DRADT had little more legitimacy or “right” to act in such role than TR.  When asked how they achieved this, DRADT personnel pointed at their mobile C2 vehicle (an RV with their logo on it) and stated “when you roll into town with something like this, people usually take you seriously.”

Recommendation: TR must continue to develop the civic and political contacts necessary to liaison with EOCs at the top level, while also improving on-site command presence.

Action: -Continue to develop civic and political contacts necessary to be able to liaison with EOCs at top level. Acquire and utilize DRADT style mobile C2 assets and capabilities.

5. Logistics

Summary: Major logistic requirements included the acquisition and fielding of TR t-shirts, equipment (tarps, chainsaws, safety gear), and incidentals (chow, water, etc.).  Most acquisition was conducted during pre-deployment; fielding occurred efficiently during mission briefs in the assembly area.  Additionally, volunteers were enthusiastic about bringing and fielding their own equipment.  Incidentals such as chow and water were mainly acquired from groups offering supplies to volunteers (Home Depot, Walmart).

Recommendation: TR R5 will continue to cache supplies and improve its logistical capabilities.

Action: -Inventory all existing R5 supplies, create manifest for logistic considerations of future deployments. Create logistical flowchart, utilize future operations.

6. Mission Objectives

Summary: Mission objectives for each day were established the night prior via coordination with adjacent relief organizations; they were then briefed each morning to volunteers in the assembly area (Walmart parking lot), utilizing an improvised, TR version of SMEAC.

Recommendation: Briefing of mission objectives was fairly efficient given the constantly changing nature of relief operations.  The briefing of mission objectives could be improved upon though, by standardizing briefing protocol for all TR volunteers.

Action: -TR HQ retools and simplifies SMEAC for TR use.

7. Equipment

Summary: Equipment needs for TR Harrisburg varied, however the most consistently used items included chainsaws, pick-axe tools, and tarps.  After debriefing with the TR Harrisburg volunteers, the primary consensus recommendation regarding equipment was to designate an “armorer,” someone who was highly proficient with equipment use / safety / maintenance / etc.

Recommendation: Integrate equipment recommendation into volunteer task organization, continue to stockpile and field viable equipment.

Action: -Designate armorer in future TR missions. Include equipment considerations in R5 inventory assessments.

8. Safety

Summary: Overall, safety considerations aboard TR Harrisburg were taken seriously by all TR volunteers; the limited size of the volunteer force enabled safety issues to be managed and mitigated with minimum effort.

Recommendation: Larger operations will require greater adherence to safety principles.  If not already done so, TR HQ could improve safety by publishing a simple / simplistic safety ditty for all members to recite at TR mission briefs before operating (akin to the “4 weapons safety rules” on a Marine Corps rifle range).

Action: -TR HQ publishes a cardinal “4 TR Safety Rules.” Future TR mission leaders designate a safety officer during task delegation / volunteer organization.

9. Security

Summary: Security concerns were minimal.

Recommendation: Given the heavy police presence, it is advised that TR continue to work with / rely upon local authorities for security considerations.

Action: -Continue to work with / rely upon local authorities for security considerations. Reinforce TR disapproval of bringing personal weapons (knives larger than pocket size; firearms) into a DZ.  NOTE* no one brought personal weapons to TR Harrisburg, however, it is easy to anticipate this occurring in the future.

10. Medical

Summary: All casualties were treated an evacuated by local authorities before the arrival to TR volunteers.

Recommendation: Though most casualties will be found / assessed / treated / evacuated before the onset of TR operations, TR should continue to encourage medical / first aid training amongst volunteers for the sake of TR volunteers conducting relief efforts, as well as for the possibility that additional casualties should occur.

Action: -Continue to encourage medical training for TR volunteers. Incorporate medical officer into mission task organization.

11. Communication

Summary: Thankfully, cell phone reception was perfect ivo Harrisburg, despite the storm damage.

Recommendation: Given the strong unlikelihood of every mission having perfect cell phone service, investment should be made into alternate comm systems (radios, radio repeaters, field phones, etc.).

Action: -Invest in secondary comm gear. Integrate comm issues into pre-deployment planning.

12. Media, traditional

Summary: TR Harrisburg gave 1 interview to ABC; all interview subjects were supervised by TR VP William McNulty.

Recommendation: Provide traditional media protocol and training to deploying TR team leaders.

Action: -Provide traditional media protocol and training to deploying TR team leaders. Always designate a “face-of-the-mission,” not necessarily a team leader; someone that is articulate and fits the mold of a TR veteran volunteer.

13. Media, New

Summary: New media updates were broadcast via facebook and orgaction.  Most were done via a laptop, hooked up to a car battery, tethered to the internet through an iPhone mobile hotspot.

Recommendation: New Media capabilities will be greatly enhanced by increased mobile C2 capabilities.

Action: -Continue to increase mobile C2  capabilities. Acquire and field equipment necessary for enhanced new media exploitation (vehicle A/C adapters capable of powering a laptop; aircard, Thuriya satellite IP, or other device capable of establishing remote internet connection).