Practice, preparation and partnerships are key components to protecting Wisconsin from a wide spectrum of hazards and risks, according to the state’s homeland security advisor.
“There are a lot of things Wisconsin faces,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general and Gov. Scott Walker’s advisor for homeland security issues. “I can tell you with confidence we’re going to have a flood again someday. I can tell you with confidence we’ll have a tornado someday. They can be tragic and devastating, but they don’t scare me because we’ve had them before and we have good procedures in place — we have a good emergency management team at the local county level and the state level, and we have good partners in FEMA.”
Dunbar made those remarks at a recent press conference spotlighting the publication of Wisconsin’s 2014 Homeland Security Annual Report and the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and State Preparedness Report. These represent the final report for Wisconsin’s Homeland Security Committee for Walker’s first term as governor. Walker has determined to continue the committee into his second term.
“As Wisconsin’s Homeland Security advisor, I’m very proud of the efforts by all state agencies and our local partners to improve Wisconsin’s overall readiness,” Dunbar said.
Both documents — which Dunbar described as ” a snapshot of what the state has accomplished and the road ahead” — outline risks to the state, and steps Wisconsin is taking to mitigate those risks. Included among the eight identified threat and hazard scenarios — an EF 5 tornado outbreak in a populated area, widespread cyber and power outages, flooding, and a terrorist event.
“There’s no wall big enough,” Dunbar said. “We continue to look at all these things and try and build mitigation strategies, tabletop exercises and practical exercises. What you can do, by practicing, is you learn some gaps you have, try and close those gaps, and you’re much further along if something bad does happen.”
As adjutant general, Dunbar commands the Wisconsin National Guard, which has several assets designed for domestic emergency response — the 54th Civil Support Team, the CERFP (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Energy Explosive Emergency Response Force Package), the National Guard Reaction Force, two new Ebola response teams, and the various smaller force packages designated across the state to respond to natural emergencies such as winter storms or flooding. However, while the National Guard is the first military responder to domestic emergencies, it is not intended to be first at the scene of an emergency. Local first responders — law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics — own that role. But Wisconsin is developing additional resources to help local agencies.
Among them, Dunbar reported, Wisconsin Task Force One — a regional response collapse rescue team composed of personnel from 10 fire departments across the state, as well as the staff from the Regional Emergency All-Climate Training (REACT) Center at Volk Field, Wisconsin. Another is the Complex All-Hazard Type-2 Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT), a group of first responders from state and local agencies available upon request to assist local incident commanders during major emergencies.
Last fall, Wisconsin hosted its second Cyber Summit, an event designed to share best practices on protecting information networks and databases from cyber attacks. Safeguards built into the state information network block an estimated 6 million cyber attacks each day. However, a denial of service cyber attack disrupted city and county networks in Dane County — which are not on the state network — the day before the press conference. Dave Cagigal, chief information officer with the state Department of Administration’s Division of Enterprise Technology, said that this kind of attack has occurred before.
“I believe, from Ferguson and other places, we have a recipe now,” Cagigal said. “Every incident is going to follow that process, and we’re trying to get better and stronger and more resilient to prevent those from happening.”
Cagigal and Dunbar both mentioned aspects of cyber hygiene — knowing what sensitive personnel information is stored on a network, and knowing who has access to the network.
“We’re going to face this threat forever,” Dunbar said. “But we can mitigate the risk by practicing good hygiene.”
Brian Satula, Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator, briefly discussed the risk posed by transporting Bakken crude oil across the state.
“Our part of it is to make sure our first responders are prepared for it,” he said. That involves training and exercises as well as supplying the responding agency with firefighting foam.
Dunbar addressed the potential for terror threats to commercial shopping malls as well as weapons of mass destruction. Partnerships with federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and local and tribal emergency responders is vital for sharing information about potential threats and effective ways to counter or respond to such threats.
“Homeland security is not a destination — it’s a continual collaborative process,” Dunbar said. “And we have work to do to continue to ensure that, whatever the threat, we in the state of Wisconsin are ready to respond.”