Three tornadoes have cut through Ozaukee County, each taking a different path. The damage is extensive. Major roadways, water supplies and communications towers have been damaged or heavily affected. At least that’s the training scenario that Ozaukee County emergency management officials and members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade faced in a multi-day exercise April 17-19.
Communities and emergency response agencies have been trained how to respond in the event of a tornado, but helping communities return as closely as possible to their normal day-to-day lives was the task at hand.
Members of the 157th MEB met with elected officials, emergency managers, Ozaukee County first responders, as well as state emergency management personnel April 17 to devise a plan in the event of a natural disaster in which the Wisconsin Army National Guard has been called onto state active duty after a state of emergency declaration.
The exercise began 96 hours after the notional tornadoes went through Ozaukee County. Ozaukee County emergency response director Scott Ziegler and Maj. Paul Felician, operations officer for the 157th MEB, led a tabletop exercise, which focused on returning a community’s operations back to normal 96-164 hours after disaster strikes.
“This exercise was really aimed at the recovery portion,” Ziegler said. “It wasn’t about rescuing trapped victims or evacuating people. Our exercise started after that was done. This is more of ‘how do we get life back to normal?'”
On April 18, civilian organizations worked alongside Soldiers from the 157th MEB to complete tasks that would be necessary in the result of a triple tornado scenario.
“We were looking at things [like] debris clearance, opening roadways, restoring utilities, getting our hospitals back into operation,” said Ziegler. “One of the elements here was the loss of water supplies. That’s a very difficult thing for a hospital to deal with.”
Soldiers from the 257th Brigade Support Battalion were on site at Aurora Hospital in Grafton conducting water purification exercises. It is just one way the Wisconsin Army National Guard can help to respond in case of an emergency.
Simultaneously Soldiers from the 724th Engineer Battalion conducted training, which corresponded closely with debris removal, and Soldiers from the 32nd Military Police Company conducted a search and rescue mission with Port Washington police officers at Pleasant Valley Nature Park in Cedarburg.
The 157th setup a tactical operations center at Fireman’s Park in Cedarburg, and Soldiers set up the unit’s communications center in the park alongside the emergency response director with the Ozaukee County Sherriff’s Department. It was crucial for military and civilian organizations to be able to communicate with one another.
“We’ve been doing a lot on the radio,” Ziegler said. “One of the big elements of our exercise was radio communications — how we would get military units to talk to civilian units and how we would get various agencies to talk that don’t normally interact on a day-to-day basis via radio system.”
Each unit also set up a static display which was open to the public at Fireman’s Park. Felician said it was important to make military equipment visible to the public.
“They get to see what they have paid for as taxpayers,” Felician said. “This is equipment and the training they have paid for. This is also to reassure that we are there as the National Guard to respond to their needs.”
The training exercise took more than a year to plan, and the scenario mimicked what happened when a tornado devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011.