Colfax & Dunn County tabletop exercise for tornado during the Colfax Free Fair declared successful

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  If an F-3 tornado were to strike Colfax during the Colfax Free Fair would Colfax and Dunn County personnel be prepared?

The answer is — yes.

The Village of Colfax and several Dunn County agencies held a tabletop exercise July 25 to do a test run of the Colfax Emergency Operations Plan to find out where there are gaps and inefficiencies.

[emember_protected] Melissa Gilgenbach, Dunn County emergency management director, issued a report on the tabletop exercise October 2.

A copy of the report was included in the Colfax Village Board’s packet for the November 27 meeting.

The tabletop exercise was designed to evaluate the local Emergency Responders’ ability to respond to a severe weather event and to evaluate the village’s newly revised Emergency Operations plan.

The exercise simulated an F-3 tornado touching down in Colfax and traveling through the community and the Colfax Free Fair, causing severe damage at many locations, damaging structures, causing widespread power outages and blocking roads with downed trees.

The simulated F-3 tornado also had an impact on people visiting the fair, vendors at the fair and animals brought to the fair as projects for 4-H clubs and the FFA.

The agencies that participated included the Colfax Community Fire Department, the Colfax Police Department, the Colfax Rescue Squad, the Village of Colfax administrator, the Colfax Fair Board, representatives for the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center, Colfax public schools, and the Colfax Department of Public Works.

The Dunn County participants included emergency management, the 911 center, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, and Dunn County first responders.

The Wisconsin Emergency Management regional director and the WEM exercise officer also participated.

All together, 29 people gathered at Colfax High School to participate in the tabletop exercise.

Strengths

According to Gilgenbach’s report, the strengths of the exercise included good representation from different agencies from Colfax and from Dunn County along with the fact that Colfax and Dunn County have an updated emergency operations plan.

The strengths also included a willingness to work together and agreement among the group that the exercise was worthwhile.

Improvements

The areas for improvement identified by the exercise include developing local training for Emergency Responders and Dunn County agencies concerning who can activate the Colfax Emergency Plan and what their roles and responsibilities are when the plan is activated along with developing future exercises emphasizing the activation of the Colfax plan.

Using Dunn County’s Code Red Alert system was included as an area needing improvement. County and village officials should receive additional training on how to activate the system and how to develop the message sent out during the alert.

Additional exercises also are needed to include the roles and responsibilities of the command staff, establishing a command structure and operating the Incident Command Post and staging areas.

The report notes that developing a functional exercise as a follow-up to the tabletop exercise would be a good idea.

When the emergency plan is activated, the Colfax village president assumes overall responsibility for the village, and the Colfax Community Fire Department assumes the role of incident commander on scene.

More plans needed

Participants in the exercise discussed the need to develop a plan to transport, house and assist citizens in need after a disaster or an emergency.

The Red Cross would be asked for assistance, and the school could be used as a shelter or reception center, the report notes.

Representatives for the Colfax Rescue Squad discussed using triage transport to send patients through to hospitals and using the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) to request ambulances to transport.

Participants discussed, too, the need to develop a plan for the accountability of staff and other agencies after a major incident, and Gary Stene, Colfax village president, pointed out the need to search until everyone is accounted for.

The discussion noted Colfax has a good municipal emergency operations plan but more people need to know about their roles and responsibilities during an emergency or a disaster.

Members of the Colfax Fair Board have a good plan for observing severe weather and how to notify the public attending the fair if necessary, the report states.

The staff from Colfax Health and Rehab explained how the nursing home would handle the notification of severe weather and what procedures would be followed if the building was struck.

The tabletop exercise focused on analyzing three major areas: core capability performance, mass search and rescue operations and operational coordination. [/emember_protected]