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APPLETON, Wis. — The efforts of a Wisconsin National Guard chemical company in response to an avian flu outbreak last year was the focus of a general session at the 49th annual Governor’s Conference on Emergency Management and Homeland Security March 9-10.

Last spring, federal, state and local agencies worked with the poultry industry to help stop the spread of the disease that impacted 1.9 million chickens and turkeys in Wisconsin. Panel members discussed the outbreak and Gov. Scott Walker’s emergency declaration authorizing the Wisconsin National Guard to assist in the avian flu response effort.

Sixteen Soldiers from the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 457th Chemical Company decontaminated vehicles leaving infected poultry operations. Maj. Megan Stetzer, a future operations and plans officer with the Wisconsin National Guard Joint Staff, explained how the Guard worked closely with state officials from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the Department of Health Services and the Department of Natural Resources.

sm160309-O-WEM02-002.jpg“We learned a lot about the importance of effective communications with our partners and mission support,” Stetzer said. “It was a huge benefit to the Guard to be involved in this operation.”

The real-world mission also underscored the inherent value of the Wisconsin National Guard as the state’s first military responder — the same training and equipment that would potentially save military lives overseas in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical contamination provided rapid mitigation support for a serious domestic incident.

Walker praised Wisconsin’s first responders for their efforts to keep state residents safe.

“We owe Wisconsin’s first responders a debt of gratitude for their dedication and willingness to risk their lives and wellbeing to protect our citizens,” Walker said. “With their talents and training, we are able to quickly respond to and resolve emergencies like natural disasters, disease and threats to our security.”

sm160309-O-WEM02-004.jpgThe governor added that the conference provided an excellent opportunity to learn emerging methods to protect Wisconsin and develop response plans to crises if they occur.

“This conference helps us to share best practices and lessons learned from past events,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general and homeland security advisor. “It’s a chance to discuss ongoing issues such as cyber security, response to disease outbreaks from Ebola to avian influenza, and to improve our response and recovery efforts to severe storms and other emergencies and disasters.

“Keeping Wisconsin citizens safe is our top priority,” Dunbar said. “Wisconsin state, tribal and local partners continue to work collaboratively to address all hazards facing our state.”

More than 400 fire, law enforcement, emergency management, National Guard and other first responder agencies attended the conference — one of the nation’s oldest emergency management conferences. Next year marks the conference’s 50th anniversary.