Incident management team is in place for local disasters

LAKE COUNTY — Individual police and fire departments have a limited amount of resources, yet large-scale disasters can happen in communities both large and small. When that happens, groups such as the Region Six Incident Management Team can be called upon.

The region six team is a type-three FEMA response team. This means it is a collection of emergency response personnel from different departments who work together to provide additional assistance when local resources may not be enough.

"It's an all-hazard team, so any incident which could occur we can respond to," said team manager Bob Austin. "We would be called in by a local jurisdiction leader. In Lake County this would most likely mean the sheriff or one of the fire chiefs.

The region six team pulls from fire, police, sheriff and EMS departments all over the western Michigan area, including Lake, Osceola and Mecosta counties. It has been in place since 2004.

"The creation of teams like ours were dictated by the Department of Homeland Security because some incidents are too big for local departments to handle alone," explained Austin. "These kinds of teams have been in existence for years for the National Forest Service to coordinate on forest fires. Now we have cooperative teams which can come together and assist with any kind of large disaster."

The team could be called in for natural disasters such as tornadoes or floods, large police operations like missing person searches or terrorist incidents, or even events which require extensive planning like festivals. For instance, they have helped coordinate several of Lake County's Blessing of the Bikes celebrations in the past.

"These teams look more at the long-term issues while local police and fire are focusing on immediate problems like getting people to safety or getting fires under control," said Austin. This way, rescue teams can devote all of their efforts to, for example, rescuing people from a burning building without having to worry about how they will help them afterward."

These long-term issues include things like getting food and water on site for both emergency personnel and those who have suffered a calamity, setting up or securing shelters for those affected, managing and coordinating communications and handling the logistics of managing and coordinating several different departments in the midst of a chaotic environment.

The team also helps coordinate and plan for possible scenarios. This past summer, the team participated in "Operation: Northern Exposure," a National Guard exercise to test and evaluate local readiness in the event of the release of a "dirty" nuclear bomb. The region six team received a commendation for their part in the exercise which consisted of providing incident action plans for site security and military convoy escorts.

Austin said teams like the region six team are important because they can provide resources which departments could never have access to on their own.

"The potential for a problem at a university like Ferris in Big Rapids is huge," remarked Austin. "The local departments can't necessarily afford to keep all the resources needed to deal with so many possible scenarios on their payrolls, but by working together and pooling our resources they are available if the worst should happen. This team is here, it's available and it's ready for any major problem in this area."