Training exercise conducted in Benzie County

Volunteers and members of area first response organizations plan out and organize a search and rescue operation during a live-action training exercise Saturday. (Benzie County Office of Emergency Management/Courtesy Photo)

Volunteers and members of area first response organizations plan out and organize a search and rescue operation during a live-action training exercise Saturday. (Benzie County Office of Emergency Management/Courtesy Photo)

BENZIE COUNTY —  A host of emergency service organizations and volunteers worked together on Saturday during a search and rescue exercise.

Just over 70 people participated in the exercise, which was put on by the Benzie County Office of Emergency Management and the National Park Service. Department of Natural Resource officers, members of the Michigan State Police, Benzie County Sheriff’s Office, Benzie County Emergency Medical Services and volunteers from the public all took part in the exercise.

The exercise, which simulated children lost near the Platte River Campground, began with much organization at the Benzie County Government Center.

“The purpose of the exercise was to engage people in a search and rescue event,” said Frank Post, emergency manager for Benzie County. “It was for a second operation period of a search and rescue operation. Typically, search and rescue events are done fairly well, and normally end very quickly in the first operation period. The second operational period is when the individual is not found, there is urgency, and there is quite an organizational process.”

Participants gathered at the government center and created a chain of command, planned out where the search would take place, where volunteers and staff would operate from and what to do in the case of a medical emergency. Teams were formed to do certain tasks, such as vetting volunteers.

“You don’t just show up, park your car and start looking in the woods,” Post said. “There is a lot of organization that needs to take place first.”

The Lake Township Hall and Platte River Ranger Station were both used as staging areas for the actual search and rescue portion of the event. A search of the area north of the Platte River Campground was conducted.

Throughout the whole process, evaluators watched staff and volunteers at work, and following the exercise, a “hotwash” was held, where evaluators talked to participants about things that had gone well, and things that could have been better. Participants also asked questions and brought up issues they had during the exercise.

“It is good for people to get familiar with what the other people they’ll be working with are capable of,” Post said. “It is easier than being thrust together in a real world event and not knowing the skills and capabilities of the other people they’re working with.”

Phil Akers, chief ranger for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, said the exercise was a good learning experience.

“Frank Post and Sleeping Bear Dunes district ranger Joe Lachowski did a great job organizing the event,” Akers said. “It was a great opportunity to network with our partners.”

Akers said the exercise not only helped train people how to respond to such an event, but it also helped expose some of the issues that might affect a search and rescue event.

“There were some communication issues,” he said. “This is often the case when you have multiple area agencies working together.”

Akers said the National Park Service performs around 40 search and rescue missions each year at the SBDNL.

“They’re primarily located in the dune plateau area; the dune climb area,” he said. “Sometimes people get lost exploring the dunes, and sometimes people have a medical condition or experience a health issue, like heat exhaustion, and need to be extracted. We also get calls from kayakers out on Lake Michigan when the water gets rough.”

 

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