Wisconsin National Guard responds to winter emergency
MADISON (PRESS RELEASE)--Nearly 100 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been on duty since Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 1) using tactical vehicles to conduct route sweeps and search and rescue missions along roadways to help state and local authorities with winter weather emergencies.
"Our Guardsmen have been on duty all night long assisting local law enforcement officials and we will continue to support as long as we are needed," said Lt. Col. David May, deputy director of Domestic Operations and the Wisconsin National Guard's liaison in the state Emergency Operations Center coordinating Guard support to civilian authorities.
Guard members began reporting for duty Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 1) as authorized by Gov. Scott Walker's declaration of emergency, and are operating out of National Guard armories in Plymouth, Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Kenosha, Sussex, Elkhorn, Watertown, Platteville and Janesville.
Operations intensified in the overnight hours as roads became impassable and drivers were stranded. Guardsmen patrolled roads and transported stranded drivers along highways in Grant, Rock, Ozaukee, Columbia, Walworth, Kenosha and Racine counties, to include transporting 17 stranded travelers stuck in a bus on Interstate 39.
While requests for assistance in some areas have significantly decreased, Kenosha County continues to have road closures and stranded travelers so the Guard is rerouting forces to that area to assist.
"We're focusing our assets on Kenosha County right now to help them get back on solid footing," May said. Up to 10 Humvees with personnel will assist stranded motorists, which include some law enforcement and snowplow drivers.
Guard members on duty in Kenosha were busy overnight responding to requests for assistance, May said. "All assets were tasked out at one point," he said. "It's hard to detach while on one mission to take another mission somewhere else. We were dealing with an extreme situation last night."
National Guard members have been coordinating with Wisconsin State Patrol troopers, county sheriff's departments and local highway departments at various checkpoints in the storm-affected area.
Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency Feb. 1 in response to blizzard conditions authorizing Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin, to call Wisconsin Guardsmen to state active duty to assist civil authorities for response and recovery efforts.
May praised the early declaration by Walker, which allowed the Wisconsin National Guard time to stage tactical vehicles for the mission.
"It was only because we could pre-stage equipment that we could have responded like this," he said.
May also said the partnership between the Wisconsin National Guard, Wisconsin Emergency Management, Wisconsin State Patrol and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources succeeded because of their individual strengths.
"This resulted in a swift response to the people that needed help," he said. "It's a good team that we have."
Wisconsin was one of six states to declare a state of emergency due to the winter storm, along with Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Other states to activate the National Guard for the storm include Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Texas.