Red Cross Prepares for a Different Kind of “Ice Bowl”

No, that’s not a typo…We recently participated in a multi-faceted simulated disaster called Ice Bowl. It was aptly named as a fictional airliner crashed into our frigid, frozen water.  The inaugural Mass Rescue Operations preparedness exercise was sponsored by Austin Straubel International Airport, Brown County Emergency Management, WI DNR and the US Coast Guard. This was such as collaborative and large-scale event, that this FAA-required disaster exercise, was held off airport grounds.

With any simulated disaster, our goal is to test our processes, give our disaster team hands-on experience, simulate mutual aid, identify gaps and learn how we would react – and improve upon our systems without the pressures of actual lives lost.

The role of Red Cross in any aviation accident is defined through a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. These two documents provide the framework for our response. Just like a residential fire or tornado, various first responders, federal, state, county and local departments all play a role in response and recovery.

For nine months, Judy Gregory, Red Cross Emergency Services Director has spearheaded our Ice Bowl participation and more than 50 volunteers and staff were involved during the actual event!

Local responsibilities included:

Emergency Operations Center & Joint Information Office: This is the central hub of incoming information, disaster response and public information/media relations.

At the Crash Site: Mass care workers and a mental health professional were available along with the Emergency Response Vehicle and Mobile Operations Center so first responders had a respite, could re-hydrate with water, hot beverages and food.

Three Local Hospitals: Two hospital liaisons were available so tracking of survivors could be communicated to their immediate family members.

Austin Straubel Airport: As passenger’s family members gathered waiting for official airline up-dates, they would be supported by Mental Health professionals, Health Services, Caseworkers and Security.

Family Assistance Center: St. Mark’s Church hosted this central location as family members waited for news about their loved ones. As we received tracking information on  passenger’s condition we shared that with the airline representatives. Together, with our Mental Health professionals they then met with actors posing as distraught family members.

Operations Management: This team provided guidance on the disaster on a whole and ensured the full support of Red Cross resources.

With any mass casualty event, the loss of life requires the best – and most – emotional support of any disaster. Therefore, we also included groups such as the county Mental Health Services, Public Health, Clergy Association and the Church of the Brethen so they are better prepared for the worst case scenario.

 We’re so proud of our volunteers and staff who have trained, prepared and practiced skills that make our communities stronger!

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