Local responders, military hold disaster exercise

The National Guard and local emergency responders participate in a disaster exercise in Grand Rapids. (June 24, 2015)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Picture this: A dirty bomb has detonated in the heart of Grand Rapids.

Everything within half to three-quarters of a mile is devastated. Everything from a mile to a mile and a half is considered a danger zone. Getting to survivors is a challenge, as vehicles and other debris block major roadways, and communications are knocked out by the detonation.

Welcome to one of the worst of the worst-case scenarios.

Operation Northern Exposure continues all this week at the City of Grand Rapids Butterworth Landfill and Crestwood Middle School in Kentwood.

Members of the media were given a tour of the training exercise Wednesday, which is designed to test both local responders and the military on their abilities.

A volunteer's face is painted to mimic symptoms of someone involved in a dirty bomb disaster. (June 24, 2015)
(A volunteer’s face is painted to mimic symptoms of someone involved in a dirty bomb disaster.)

Near the entrance to the landfill, a line of actors waited to get a makeup job to help mimic symptoms on a card around their wrists. “Weak and dizzy” is the way one of those actors, Dave Cayton, described himself Wednesday.

Organizers are trying to make the exercise as realistic as possible.

“We are trying to figure out what our flaws are, what our problems are so that we can fix them,” said Michigan Army National Guard Major General Greg Vadnais, the state’s adjutant general and director of Military and Veterans Affairs.

While the dirty bomb scenario may seem a little far-fetched, a lot of what local responders and military members will be doing over the next couple of says is based in reality, like trying to clear a roadway blocked by debris.

“I can tell you, I lived this in Katrina. I was Joint Task Force commander in 2005 in Mississippi,” Vadnais said. “We cleared 4, 000 miles of roadway with debris, and that’s the same type of thing we would face in this environment.”

Most of the action will center around the landfill and at Crestwood Middle School, minimizing any public intrusion during the event, which involves some 2,500 players.

But why hold it here as opposed to a military facility? Logistics is one reason. Organizers says they want to get as many local players involved as they can and moving them to a military base would be difficult at best.

They also want to be practicing on the amount of ground that would need to be covered in a real disaster.

“It’s important that we stress our forces, not make it easy for them by just being over the next hill or around the corner,” Vadnais said.

While the likelihood for something as devastating as a nuclear attack is low, organizers believe preparing for the worst puts you in a better place when it comes to the more common threats, like the tornado that hit Portland this week.

“It puts us at the higher end of a complex catastrophic training environment, and that’s what we need to train to — that very high end. And obviously, those less complex, you’re ready for, but absolutely have to be prepared to deal with a complex catastrophe,” Vadnais said.

The event runs through Friday.

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Online:

Michigan National Guard: Catastrophic exercise 

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