OSHKOSH, Wis. - Members of the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management tested their mobile communications skills during the State Interoperable Mobile Communications (SIMCOM) Exercise in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, May 15. This was the first time the annual exercise was held in Northeast Wisconsin.
The SIMCOM tested mobile emergency communications platforms from federal, state, local, tribal, military, volunteer, and private organizations. The goal is to develop relationships and understand the capabilities of other agencies before they are needed in a real emergency.
"The ability to communicate in a crisis is critical," said Tod Pritchard, a public information officer with WEM. "SIMCOM helps Wisconsin Emergency Management and other agencies test their ability to share voice and data information in situations where phone and Internet services are down and communities are cut off from the world outside the disaster."
The Winnebago Emergency Management, Wisconsin Emergency Management and Wisconsin National Guard Joint Operations Center planned the event.
"The planning began last fall," said Linda Kollman, Winnebago County emergency management director. "We've been meeting on and off for the last six months."
The planning was not too much of a challenge because the event is held annually, Kollman said. The only big change was the location. Changing the location allows all the participants to verify their equipment works in different areas of the state.
"It's a good idea to be prepared," she said. "I think working out communication issues before a disaster occurs is very beneficial to everyone."
More than 100 agencies were in attendance, using 34 communications platforms. The agencies worked together to ensure proper communication is achieved should a natural disaster occur.
"We network with other entities so we understand their capabilities and they understand ours," said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Wizner, 115th Fighter Wing installation emergency manager. "It's much nicer to meet and greet people here than it would be at the scene of an actual emergency."
Throughout the day, each agency was given various scenarios to practice. This allowed all participants to verify their communication tools were working properly, and if they were not in proper working order, they now have time to fix the problems before an emergency situation - like a tornado or flooding - arises.
The National Guard participants were a key player during this exercise, but Wizner pointed out a common misconception.
"Everyone thinks the military will be large and in-charge but as a matter-of-fact we work for [the local authorities]," he said. "All incidents start at the local level and end at the local level. We're called when we are needed."