What if? Emergency plan put to test

ESCANABA — About 100 emergency responders and representatives of other local organizations took part in a tabletop exercise at Bay College Thursday morning to discuss a hypothetical emergency scenario on the U.S. 2 and 41 bridge over the Escanaba River.

During the exercise, attendees working in small groups talked through their responses to a scenario presented by Delta County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Berbohm. In the scenario, a school bus and a minivan collided on the Escanaba River bridge, resulting in eight critically-injured patients, two fatalities, and the closure of the bridge. Later in the scenario, a logging truck dropped its load on the West Gladstone Bridge; as a result, that bridge was closed, as well.

Berbohm said the exercise was intended to present a worst-case scenario for local emergency responders and organizations that would be affected by the closure of the Escanaba River Bridge.

“Everything else will fall into place if we think of the worst (possibility),” Berbohm said.

The tabletop exercise had been in the planning stages for quite awhile.

“Our Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) has discussed this for the past several months, back into 2016,” Berbohm said. The exercise was timed to coincide with the beginning of work on the Escanaba River Bridge and the E&LS Railroad Bridge in Wells Township.

The primary goal of Thursday’s exercise was to put the county’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to the test.

“What we’re doing now is seeing if there’s any major holes in the plan that we can fix now,” Berbohm said.

Now that this exercise is complete, the LEPC’s next step will be to analyze the feedback provided by attendees to see if there are any issues with the county’s EAP that need to be addressed.

Agencies and organizations represented at the exercise included local schools, local governments, local law enforcement agencies, contractors for the bridge project, OSF St. Francis Hospital and Medical Group, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Delta County Road Commission, and Verso Corporation.

“As you can tell, we have a diverse group,” Berbohm said.

Berbohm noted that by taking part in the exercise, attendees were able to start thinking about alternate routes of travel and strategies that could be used during an emergency on the Escanaba River Bridge. One attendee, Zenith Tech, Inc. Project Manager John Solwold Jr., said the exercise gave him an expanded perspective on how emergencies are handled.

“I learned how many different people there are that are involved behind the scenes in an emergency situation,” he said.

Solwold said Zenith Tech is the prime contractor on the bridge project and it is important for him to take part in this exercise.

“We’re going to be there in the beginning, when an accident happens,” he said.

Delta County Commissioner Theresa Nelson, who also took part in the exercise, said she was surprised to see how heavily attended it was.

“It’s shocking to see this many organizations… that are involved in supporting the (emergency) efforts in Delta County,” she said.

Nelson thanked her fellow attendees for taking time out of their day to take part in this exercise and to Berbohm for organizing the exercise.

“I commend Bob Berbohm for putting this all together,” she said.