Tourist Destination Arming Businesses with Resilience Training

In Wisconsin, the Dells-Delton Area Response Exercise Series is using a Department of Homeland Security grant to prepare susceptible local businesses for a mass-casualty event.

by Jim McKay / February 8, 2019

It’s critical to the recovery of a community to get local businesses up and running as soon as possible after a disaster, yet many businesses aren’t as resilient as they could be, making recovery difficult or impossible.

The Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton area attract more than 4 million people each year as a tourist attraction, so a mass casualty event would be catastrophic for residents, tourists and businesses.

To help the business community develop more resilience to such an event, state and local public safety officials here secured a grant of $75,000 through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct a two-year training program for local businesses.

The Dells-Delton Area Response Exercise Series (DARES) is free to any business that wants to develop a response and recovery plan or enhance an existing one.

“The purpose of the grant is to work with our public-private partners to review, improve and develop plans for a response, particularly to a complex mass casualty event, but of course it will address a lot of other, smaller-scale events along the way as well,” said Lake Delton Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Darren Jorgenson.

The area was identified by DHS as being susceptible to a possible mass casualty attack because of the large number of tourists and the more than 4,000 J-1 visa exchange students who work in area businesses.

The program is offering a series of trainings through the next two years that build on each other and culminate with a full-scale exercise during fall 2020.

The grant allowed for the hiring of retired Wisconsin Dells Police Detective Jed Seidl, who acts as a liaison between the public safety community and local businesses. He said that, through word of mouth and some newspaper exposure, the business community is becoming aware of the program and responding.

“We have localized training we can bring to the businesses based on what their needs are, but we also have built into this project for the two years before, so many different main events or training events they were made aware of at the first meeting we had,” Seidl said.

The next DARES event will be a tabletop, is scheduled for March 5 and will be a review of business-sector Standard Operating Procedures and Emergency Operations Plans (EOP).

“One of the things I started doing was going in and talking with them about the onsite assessment and going over strengths and vulnerabilities, and using that to improve training and bring them up to date on EOPs and then test them in 2020 with the large-scale exercise,” Seidl said.

Seidl said he was a bit surprised at how well prepared most of the businesses are and that with this program, each business can learn what others are doing and what might be successful for them, without having to reveal plans and vulnerabilities.

“What’s nice there is a bit of competition with the hotels,” Seidl said. “A lot of hotels are willing to share with me but are concerned about keeping stuff in house. When they share information with me, I look at it anonymously, find strengths and weaknesses in all of them and share that with all through the training platforms.”

The program offers myriad trainings, and some may not apply to all of the businesses, but the businesses are informed about the content and how it may apply and why they may want to attend. If one business has a unique vulnerability that isn’t common among the other businesses, DARES will work exclusively with that business to help shore up the vulnerability.

Some of the training issues and topics are:

  • Incident Command Refresher
  • Collaborative Training Evolutions
  • Critical Care/Medical Response Coordination
  • Web-Based Training
  • Rescue Task Force Training
  • Critical Communication Training
  • Public Information and Warning
  • Department-Level Skills Training
  • Medical Surge
  • Family Unification
  • Economic Recovery

Seidl has also met with the CEOs of all the local hospitals, who will be tested in a mass casualty event. But even if that never occurs, the training will prove valuable during smaller-scale events, Jorgenson said. “We know that the worst-case scenario is not likely to occur, but that all the training is going to prepare us to better respond to other incidents, such as a large-scale fire or bus crash or something along those lines.”