Citizens, soldiers solving disasters

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Lead exercise controller Maj. Taylor Cox explains the details of how the enactment was carried out. Exercise Vigilant Sheen was an exercise which took place on Aug. 7-8, 2013. Representatives from several agencies in and around Minnesota gathered at Camp Ripley to work with the Minnesota National Guard in simulating a disaster response. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Pfc. William Boecker/Released)

For two days at Camp Ripley, Aug. 7 – 8, at the recently completed Emergency Management Training Center, representatives gathered from not only the Minnesota National Guard, but from several other agencies in and around the state for a mock disaster exercise called Vigilant Sheen.

The training exercise included players at all levels to keep the exercise as real as possible. From a mock press conference with the actual sheriff of Morrison County, to phone calls and a pretend executive order from the Governor to the Minnesota National Guard.

The Training and Exercise Development Officer for Joint Force Headquarters, who was integral to developing the exercise, Maj. Taylor Cox said, “We proved a lot of concepts that we thought would work, but weren’t sure would work.”

The scenario opened with the Minnesota National Guard responding to a flood in Duluth. As a test of all the responders involved, a train derailment resulting in a massive chemical spill in Little Falls is injected into the scenario. For all of the agencies involved, they then had to not only respond to the situation, but also work side-by-side with each other.

“We’re one of the most experienced states in the process,” explained Steve Bushman, representative of Minnesota’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network. Since 2010, MNWARN has responded to over 30 activations in which they help provide resources to affected communities.

“Our goal is to restore operations and get people back to their normal lives as quickly as possible,” said Bushman.

MNWARN partners with agencies such as the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, some of who were also present for Vigilant Sheen. Their network spans 315 communities throughout the state whom they call upon as a source of resources for an affected area. Now, they’re partnering with the Minnesota National Guard.

Like the Minnesota National Guard, MNWARN employees get deployed to areas around the state that are struck by disaster. The American Red Cross Disaster Services were also present and involved in Vigilant Sheen.

“We are required to respond to any emergency that comes up. We are the primary group with an agreement with [Federal Emergency Management Agency],” said Terry Sluss, Deputy Chair of Disaster Services for Northern Minnesota. “We are the lead organization for non-governmental organizations for these kinds of events.”

In reaching out to other organizations for exercise Vigilant Sheen, the Minnesota National Guard has built stronger relationships and begun developing new plans for disaster response.

Cox explained that it was vital for members of the military to be able to communicate with its civilian counterparts. “It’s easier for us to speak their language than it is to teach them ours. So we’re using the civilian approach to exercise design and development.”

When the exercise concluded, it was clear from all parties involved that the efforts put forth will lead to positive cohesion, which will in turn be passed to the citizens of Minnesota who need it.

“I’ve enjoyed being a part of this. It’s a great opportunity to work as part of a team,” said Marty Glynn of Shakopee Public Utilities and Director of Region 6 of MNWARN. “This is all built on other people’s assets and none of our own. It’s about a team response.”

“We’re really happy to learn together with them as they’re learning from them as well,” added Terry Sluss. “We really appreciate what the Guard is doing here.

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