Statewide Specialty Emergency Response Teams
A regional/statewide approach to Homeland Security investments gives all law enforcement agencies access to specialty equipment and highly trained experienced team members when they need it. Strategic investments in a statewide structural collapse team and regional SWAT and bomb teams have resulted in statewide resources that improve Wisconsin’s ability to respond to serious emergencies.
Investing in regional teams enables cost-effective acquisition of expensive specialized equipment and training. Resources are distributed to ensure the greatest statewide coverage and minimize response times, regardless of where an incident may occur.
Regional SWAT and Bomb Teams
There are eight regional SWAT and five regional bomb teams called Aligned Law Enforcement Response Teams (or ALERT). ALERT teams are made up of local law enforcement departments who can assist local law enforcement when circumstances require advanced tactical response. These capabilities are deployed regularly throughout the state to assist local law enforcement.
ALERT teams have standardized specialized equipment, follow the same operating procedures, and have standardized training in topics such as weapons of mass destruction, explosive breach, and hostage rescue.
The ALERT Executive Committee has worked in partnership with DMA/WEM to establish tactical team standards (equipment and training) and standard operating procedures for regional SWAT teams. Wisconsin may be unique in the nation in achieving this accomplishment for its regional team resources. While there are national standards for bomb teams, there are no standards—locally or nationally—for SWAT teams: what a team consists of, what expertise or equipment a team must have, or a standard operating procedure for how teams respond to incidents. Wisconsin’s regional ALERT teams are a statewide tactical resource equipped and trained to respond to critical incidents anywhere in the state in approximately an hour.
Statewide Structural Collapse team
In 2009, the state legislature established a statewide structural collapse rescue team in Wisconsin. The capability has helped to equip and train fire departments across the state to search for and rescue victims in a large-scale structural collapse. The Statewide Structural Collapse team is made up of more than 250 responders from fire departments across the state, all trained to search and rescue victims trapped in large-scale structural collapses. When an emergency occurs, trained team members can be assembled and respond anywhere in the state within eight hours, while operating continuously for up to seventy-two hours. Buildings can become unstable for a variety of reasons including: fire, flood, or tornado damage; ongoing construction; or gas explosions. The ability to send specially trained firefighters to assist with unusual circumstances improves the response to the crisis and safety for fire department personnel.
Improvements in Information sharing
Homeland Security grant funds have supported several information sharing projects in Wisconsin. Past information sharing improvements include:
Training and exercises
Regular training and exercises are important to maintaining a high preparedness level. Conducting exercises enables key emergency personnel to check existing emergency preparedness plans and procedures to ensure there are systems in place to protect the public in the event of an emergency. Every year, Federal Homeland Security funding supports training classes and exercises for local units of government. The training supports the adoption of the national incident management system, which helps coordinate responses in large disasters. Grant funds were also used to develop the Training Portal that WEM uses to post training opportunities in the state. The Training Portal also stores records of classes taken to support credentialing.
Exercises may be used to assess communications and interactions between emergency responder groups – including Emergency Operations Center staff, Police, Fire, emergency medical personnel, Specialized Response Teams (such as Hazmat) – and/or communications coordination among jurisdictions.
The Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC) is designated as the state’s primary intelligence fusion center. In addition to disseminating intelligence bulletins and reports to public safety and private sector partners, WSIC provides analytical and technical case support to law enforcement agencies protecting the civil rights, civil liberties and privacy of our citizens.
Fusion centers are a critical part of our nation’s information sharing network that help identify and investigate potential threats. One of WSIC’s responsibilities is to collect, vet, analyze and file suspicious activity reports as part of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) based upon information gathered by officers in the field. The Threat Liaison Officer program trains law enforcement officials on reporting suspicious activity. WSIC’s training program has been highlighted as a national best practice by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The results of WSIC operations have been briefed in both classified and unclassified products to Secretary Napolitano and other key national officials, and Wisconsin’s work has been highlighted by the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC).
Whether it is a snow storm that closes the interstate, a bridge collapse, a public health emergency, a factory explosion, a HAZMAT spill, a bomb threat, or a terrorist attack, first responders from different disciplines and jurisdictions need to communicate via radio to be able to coordinate and work together. Interoperability is no longer a “nice to have” functionality; it’s a “need to have” for effective response. Interoperability means the ability of public safety agencies to communicate with each other and with other entities involved in emergency response (e.g. public works and transportation agencies, hospitals, volunteer emergency service agencies, etc.) by means of radio or associated communications systems including the exchange of voice, data, or video communications on demand and in real time, as needed or authorized. (Wis. Stats. 16.945 (1)(c)).
Providing reliable and responsive interoperable communications has been a central goal of the Governor’s Wisconsin Homeland Security Council, and has been a part of Wisconsin’s comprehensive strategic homeland security planning efforts. The Homeland Security Council interoperability goal supports the implementation of the Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP) previously written by the Office of Justice Assistance and approved by the State Interoperability Executive Council.
The Interoperability Council has adopted the Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan (SCIP) as the shared strategic vision of Wisconsin’s interoperable communications efforts. Written in 2007, the SCIP includes both long- and short-term Interoperability goals. Its primary goal was to develop a statewide interoperability communications system. The Interoperability Council has also embraced a shared governance approach to encourage widespread support for achieving statewide interoperability by identifying and addressing the concerns, perspectives and any unique circumstances of the jurisdictions and organizations that will benefit most from interoperability.
Homeland Security funds have been used to assist with the development of WISCOM, a statewide interoperable communications system that allows responders across the state to seamlessly communicate during a major disaster. WISCOM dramatically increases the communications capacity currently provided by mutual aid channels, and saves tax payer dollars by sharing a common infrastructure. WISCOM was constructed at a fraction of the cost of neighboring statewide systems.
WEM administers the federal grant funds for communications interoperability although statutory authority for the Interoperability Council and interoperability initiatives belongs to Wisconsin DOJ.