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Exercises test response to long-term power outages

Exercises test response to long-term power outages Exercises test response to long-term power outages

A Nov. 13-14 exercise, led by Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), tested the state’s capability to respond to the effects of a long-term mass power outage.

Known as GridEx V, a national exercise in which Wisconsin is one of only two full-scale participants, the twoday training scenario, held at the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs in Madison, and other sites in southeastern Wisconsin, is the latest in a series of exercises in the state, dating back to 2017, focused on the power grid. GridEx IV took place in November 2017, and in 2018, the annual Statewide Interoperable Mobile Communications exercise – or SIMCOM – focused on a large ice storm that resulted in hundreds of thousands without power.

In May 2018, thousands across the state participated in the Dark Sky exercise, that also simulated a long-term mass outage.

GridEx V comes on the heels of two power grid events in Wisconsin over the summer, including one caused by a straight-line winds, that resulted in a massive tree blowdown in northern Wisconsin, and another in Madison, where a fire at a downtown substation knocked out power to thousands, including many state agencies.

Gov. Tony Evers visited the exercise Nov. 14, to get a firsthand glimpse at how WEM, the Wisconsin National Guard and other state agencies, prepare for potential emergencies. State legislators, and other senior government officials and utilities executives also took part in the visit.

This series of exercises has resulted in new partnerships between the state’s utilities and government, and increased preparedness in the event of a real-world threat to the state’s utility infrastructure. It has also demonstrated the state’s capability to combat cyber and physical security threats, and to provide for basic human needs if the power remains out for several days or weeks.

“It takes a team approach,” said Dr. Darrell Williams, Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator. “No one person does this alone.”

Wisconsin activated its state emergency operations center for the exercise. The list of participants included different local, state and federal agencies, electrical and natural gas utilities, the Wisconsin National Guard and organizations like the American Red Cross.

During the exercise, participants worked through complex scenarios that included cyber attacks on the power grid, civil unrest, gas and propane shortages, and physical security threats to critical power infrastructure. Wisconsin National Guard personnel were also on scene at a power substation in Racine County, to assist local authorities in securing the facility from a fictitious threat.

Capt. Allen Nielsen, from the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Staff, helped coordinate the exercise from a staging area at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee.

“It’s very important that we test and exercise these types of missions in the event – hopefully it never happens – but in the event a large-scale power outage happens, we’re already exercised and we’re ready to respond and we can right away,” he said.

Greg Engle, Wisconsin Emergency Management’s director of planning and preparedness, said exercises like GridEx are critical to building the state’s preparedness and resiliency for emergencies, as well as testing the preparedness plans the state builds for different scenarios. The goal of any exercise, he said, is to test preparedness plans and ensure the staff is properly trained and tested under simulated real-world, stressful conditions.

“Following this exercise, we will do a review of what worked and what didn’t go so well,” said Engle. “From there, we’ll create a report that will identify all of the areas where improvements can be made and will work to put those changes in place before the next exercise. We’ll never actually say, ‘We are done. We are prepared.’ We never say that. We’re always working to improve, no matter how good we think things went.”