Wisconsin observes Winter Awareness Week Nov. 9-13, a reminder that weather and temperatures will soon combine to make state roadways riskier for travel. Some winter storms promise to pack such a wallop that preemptive measures are called for, which is where the Wisconsin National Guard comes in.
According to Patrick O’Connor, director of Wisconsin Emergency Management’s Bureau of Response and Recovery, WEM will ask the governor to issue a preemptive executive order declaring a severe winter weather emergency if an approaching winter storm appears strong enough to require National Guard assistance. This order authorizes Wisconsin’s adjutant general to call to state active duty those elements of the Wisconsin National Guard deemed necessary to assist civil authorities in response and recovery efforts, as well as provide security and other essential services.
“The Wisconsin National Guard responds to requests from the state Emergency Operations Center, received from counties or other state agencies, for assistance,” O’Connor explained.
Each armory has dedicated two military vehicles as winter storm response vehicles and maintains a list of personnel available to respond quickly for state activation, according to Lt. Col. Gerald Eastman, deputy director of domestic operations with the Wisconsin National Guard Joint Staff. Winter Force Packages are determined based on the storm path, proximity to major traffic corridors and available personnel — not every armory needs to provide a response team.
“We coordinate closely with local authorities to support public safety,” Eastman said.
O’Connor noted that other assets in addition to the Wisconsin National Guard assets are called in for winter storm response.
“We also commit Department of Natural Resources wardens in four-wheel-drive trucks or snowmobiles, and State Patrol in four-wheel-drive vehicles to assist with stranded motorists,” he said.
The primary mission for activated Wisconsin National Guard members is to transport stranded motorists to a nearby armory opened as a temporary warming site. In February 2014 the Wisconsin National Guard assisted the Wisconsin State Patrol by patrolling roads and checking rest stops to locate motorists in need of help. Even Wisconsin Army National Guard aviation assets lent a hand.
“They flew over the I-39/90 back-up for situational awareness once the storm cleared,” O’Connor added.
Additionally, the Wisconsin National Guard sponsored six regional exercises this year — along with WEM and the state Department of Transportation — that help state agencies and local authorities collaborate effectively in a unified command structure toward response and recovery efforts for a severe winter storm. The exercises focus on communication capabilities, incident command principles, and operating policies and procedures.