The “Master of Disaster” came to Mille Lacs June 13 to meet with the Tribal Emergency Response Committee (TERC) for an exercise intended to prepare the community in the event of a wildfire.
Jason Kern of the Minnesota DNR’s Division of Forestry is an Army and National Guard vet with a wealth of experience in disaster training and incident response. He used a sand table and a “toy kit” of cars, trees, black yarn for roads, red yarn for fire, and cotton balls for smoke.
“People learn better through visual scenarios,” Jason said. As TERC members gathered around the sand table, which was set up to map the Bugg Hill area in District I, Jason laid out the storyline: drought conditions, hot fall weather, a stiff wind, and a small wildfire moving in the direction of Band members’ houses.
“Where don’t we want a fire?” Jason asked. “That’s where I put the fire.”
A wildfire that threatens homes or other buildings is known in the business as a “wildland-urban interface” or “WUI,” Jason said. As the scenario unfolded, the fire grew and moved in the direction of 15 homes.
Among the questions considered as the story developed: Who will be in charge? Where will the TERC be set up? When will support be called in from other agencies and the Red Cross? When will evacuation be needed? Where will road blocks and emergency shelters be set up? Who is responsible for evacuation and first aid? What if someone refuses to evacuate? When will elected officials be notified? What about pets?
Jason emphasized that there are no right or wrong answers but encouraged TERC members (commissioners and other staff) to use their imaginations and their knowledge of the community and government to determine the best course of action.
“We use the sand table because in this environment we can fail,” Jason said. “If we learn from our failures here, we can avoid those mistakes when a real incident happens.”
Jason complimented the Band and the TERC for taking the time to plan for the worst. He also praised the Mille Lacs Band DNR’s fire crew and Supervisor Dean Staples for their professionalism. “Your guys are top notch,” he said. “We work cooperatively well. From a wildland firefighting perspective, you’ve done a great job.”