Michigan National Guard Exercise Will Focus on Statewide Flood

The “Northern Exposure” exercises are held annually in different Michigan counties. Previous exercises included other communities and scenarios like a nuclear explosion in a suburban community, said guard officials.

by Ben Solis, MLive.com, Walker, Mich. / October 15, 2019
Submerged trees at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City, Mich., on July 6, 2019. TNS

(TNS) — A catastrophic flood that could trigger a chemical spill, a medical crisis and rioting will be the focus of Michigan National Guard training exercises planned next spring across four west and central Michigan counties.

It’s all a made-up scenario, but the exercises will test the readiness of the Michigan National Guard and law enforcement agencies.

They are scheduled to take place April 13-18, 2020, at locations in Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent and Isabella counties, according to officials with the Michigan National Guard.

Each event will simulate the process of responding to a disaster from the first warning to state and federal declarations calling for assistance and relief. Various law enforcement agencies will be involved, including the Michigan State Police and local road commissions.

“It’s through collaboration and continued training and exercise that we improve our capacity to respond to and recover from disasters in the state,” said state police Capt. Emmitt McGowan, who serves as the deputy state director and the commander of the department’s Emergency Management & Homeland Security division.

The exercises dubbed “Northern Exposure” are held annually in different Michigan counties each year. Previous exercises have included other communities and such scenarios as a nuclear explosion in a suburban community, according to guard officials.

For the National Guard, inter-agency teamwork and preparedness are critical for effective responses to large-scale flooding or other natural disasters, said Lt. Col. Mark Gorzynski, director of domestic operations with the Michigan National Guard.

Next year’s training will center on flood response, with soldiers and troopers creating shelters and supply lines for medical crews. A civil disturbance and chemical spills also will be thrown into the mix.

During some exercises, guard members and state police troopers will practice the roles of responding units while some guard members will act as disaster victims.

As planning continues, Gorzynski said additional training exercises involving other communities and agencies could be added to the list before the event starts in mid-April.

The focus on flooding is particularly timely considering the havoc endured by some Michigan communities this year because of high Great Lake water levels.

In an interview with Muskegon Chronicle/MLive.com, Gorzynski said his team identified a serious flooding event as the most likely threat to occur in Michigan.

Training will kick off in Isabella County on Tuesday, April 14, and will focus on a fictitious chemical spill linked to the flooding and a security mission to contain any leaks in Isabella County, Gorzynski said.

The Isabella County exercise will involve local law enforcement, HAZMAT crews and possibly the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police.

Later that evening, guard members and police troopers will be deployed in Ottawa County to set up temporary shelters for flood victims, Gorzynski said.

The Ottawa County event will test how well MSP and the National Guard respond to and take care of displaced civilians following a HAZMAT situation, Gorzynski added.

Guard members and MSP also will set up a real-world fueling center for both emergency and civilian vehicles — an exercise that is typically performed as a simulation.

On April 15, guard members and troopers will deploy to Kent County to set up shelters, security outposts and fueling stations. Soldiers and troopers will again act as if the flood created a HAZMAT situation requiring evacuations and shelters, Gorzynski said.

They also will be in Ottawa County, where guard members plan to practice creating medical outposts and supply lines to help doctors provide emergency care.

On April 16, the exercise will move to Muskegon County for what Gorzynski called the culminating event: a HAZMAT exercise and civil disturbance training at the Muskegon County Wastewater Management facility.

Gorzynski said the civil disturbance would simulate general unrest and possible rioting if food, supplies and fuel become scarce during a disaster.

The guard is still developing the riot scenario. Gorzynski said his team chose the Muskegon County wastewater facility because of its size, and not because the county is or could be more susceptible to looting or unrest.

The final day, April 17, will be used to debrief participating agencies on what went well and in what ways each agency needs improvement.

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