The Wisconsin National Guard was part of an emergency preparedness exercise May 2-3 with the city of Portage, Columbia County Emergency Management and Divine Savior Hospital, testing their disaster response capabilities.
"The National Guard has two key roles — we are our nation's primary combat reserve, and our nation's first military responders," said Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general. "We are highly trained with command and control structures to bring a unit together to assist the incident commander and first responders in times of crisis. Everyone is here working together."
The exercise scenario began with a natural gas leak at a Portage plastics plant, leading to an explosion. A phosgene gas cloud is released, the structure collapses and there are missing employees. Emergency management response plans begin.
"Not only is this the largest [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive enhanced response force package] exercise we have ever conducted in the Wisconsin National Guard, to the best of our knowledge, this is the largest CERFP exercise linking with local civilian agencies that has ever been conducted in the United States," said Lt. Col. Scott Southworth, 641st Troop Command Battalion commander.
About 500 people participated in the exercise with about 250 of them from the Wisconsin National Guard. The Airmen and Soldiers engaged in chemical decontamination, search and extraction, medical support to a local hospital along with assisting local police department, fire department, EM personnel, and transportation of injured to local hospital.
"This is an excellent opportunity for us to combine the chemical, decontamination, medical and engineering assets together in a real world environment that is safe and also allows us to link up with the civilian agencies that we are supporting," Southworth said.
"Even if we didn't even do today's exercise, the preplanning and the faces we have put together with names and conversations have been invaluable," said Portage Mayor Bill Tierney.