Wednesday, March 12, 2014
AUGUSTA — State and local police are expected to descend on the State House today 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 occuring consecutively at venues across the state, all during a major winter storm, said Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard.
“Massive is a great description,” he said. “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 today, 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.
Augusta police and rescue will be the first to respond, Steinbuchel said. The shooter and hostage eventually will move to the fourth floor and begin firing shots from a fourth-floor window. The shooter will say he’s planted bombs in the complex, forcing the evacuation of the State House and Cross State Office Building, Steinbuchel said. Only essential employees will be involved, since the storm has closed state government. Winthrop, Capitol and Maine State Police will assist with the incident, as well as Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and Maine National Guard.
“We’re testing our ability to communicate amongst all the levels and dispatching resources where needed and when necessary,” Steinbuchel said.
Maine Department of Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland said people will notice emergency vehicles in the parking lots around the State House and on Capitol Street beginning around 4 p.m. There will be signs and message boards announcing the training during the afternoon and evening, McCausland said.
Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said planners have taken particular care not to interrupt Election Day activities. The scenario was scheduled for late in the day to mitigate the impact on state employees.
“While you may notice some extra law enforcement activity, the exercise has been designed to minimize impact on our normal business operations,” Gauvin said.
VA Maine Healthcare Sustems-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.
Students from the law enforcement program at Augusta Vocational Technical Center and volunteers from Voluntary Service at Togus will serve as patients, Doherty said. The exercise will allow Togus to test its dual use vehicle, a bus that can carry up to 20 patients, including those in wheelchairs and stretchers.
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 impacted. 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 cyber security 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 — 621-5642