November 5, 2013

‘Massive’ disaster to test Maine responders

By CRAIG CROSBY Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — State and local police are expected to descend on the State House on Tuesday as part of a massive, first-of-its-kind training exercise organized by the Maine National Guard.

Maine National Guard soldiers, as well as local, state, federal and international agencies, will respond to a number of natural disasters and mass casualty scenarios occurring consecutively at venues across the state this week, all during a major winter storm, according to Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard.

“Massive is a great description,” he said of the exercise, called Vigilant Guard. “This exercise builds on itself until such time each local responder would be overwhelmed without requesting assistance.”

One of the early events will take place Tuesday, when agencies simulate an active shooter who has taken hostages in the area of the State House. The exercise, which runs from 4 to 8 p.m., begins with a report of a shooter and hostage taker and several casualties in the Capitol.

VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus is participating in the exercise, said spokesman Jim Doherty. The hospital complex will suffer power loss, emergency power loss and structural failures because of the storm that requires patient evacuations to other hospitals and, on Thursday, relocation of critical business operations to the Lewiston VA Community-Based Outreach Clinic.

Vigilant Guard will involve about 3,000 military and civilian emergency responders from Maine, Canada, New York, New Jersey and New England, Steinbuchel said. Sponsored by the U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, this is the first Vigilant Guard exercise to be held in Maine. Steinbuchel said it has taken about a year to plan the exercises.

“This is the first one in New England,” he said. “They don’t come by very often. The fact that Maine was chosen is pretty cool.”

The overarching event will be a severe ice storm that has caused widespread power outages, Steinbuchel said. There also will be heavy snow, up to 36 inches, coupled with blizzard conditions, that lead to the collapse of several buildings throughout New England. There will be 9 million people without power. Water delivery will be affected. Communications will be compromised.

“All six New England states are impacted – three, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, with near catastrophic impacts,” Steinbuchel said. “Power outages will have a major cascading impact on all elements of response.”

In the midst of the chaos there will be a number of other critical events, including patient transfer from Togus and the shooter in Augusta. There will be a hazardous material incident in Calais, Portland and the University of Maine, a bus accident in Jackman, a collapsed building with multiple casualties in Brunswick, and even a cybersecurity incident at state and county emergency operation centers.

“The agencies will be pushed to use their knowledge and expertise in assessing storm damages, (hazardous materials) identification, decontamination, search and rescue, patient extraction, triage and other emergency response measures,” Steinbuchel said.

“Just as in real life, these fictional events will create consequences that will require emergency intervention.”

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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