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This is a first-hand account of Icy Resolve 2013 from the eyes of Cmdr. Lisa Ragone, an incident commander at the full-scale exercise.

I served as the secondary incident commander from Coast Guard Sector Detroit for an ice rescue exercise in Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013. This exercise, dubbed Icy Resolve, simulated the crash of a commuter airplane into ice-covered Lake Erie. The day was quite more interesting than my normal round of meetings, emails and phone calls in the middle of the night, but draining.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Incident Command System, the incident commander is the person in overall control of the incident on scene. The initial incident commander for this event was Chief Warrant Officer Sean McCarthy, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Marblehead. In the event of a real emergency, he would hold down the fort and run operations with local partner agencies until we (my fellow Sector Detroit staffers and I) could travel down from Detroit to the location of the Incident Command Post.

The Incident Command Post
The initial ICP was established in Coast Guard Station Marblehead because it was the closest to the simulated crash site on Lake Erie. In larger cases, we’ll often move the ICP after the initial response to avoid overwhelming the small station’s facilities.

The ICP was staffed by agencies responding to the event. In this case, we had representatives of the local fire departments (both volunteer and full-time) from the towns of Lakeside, Put-in-Bay and Marblehead, along with the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency and Sheriff’s Department, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the American Red Cross, nearby hospitals, air ambulance and vehicular emergency medical services, to name just a few. Our goal in working together was getting the injured people to medical assistance as quickly as possible.

If the incident had actually happened, the representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the fictional airline (Tundra) and the National Transportation Safety Board would also have participated. Their focus would have been determining the cause of the crash to correct deficiencies before other accidents happen.

There were also a number of observers, including the Windsor Fire & Rescue Services, from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, who we have been working with to help them develop ice rescue capacity of their own, and the local Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who serves Ohio’s 9th Congressional District. You can see a picture of her below with an airboat crew that was operating at the long-haul site and took her on a ridealong to give her exposure to the rescue asset.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (2nd from left), an Ohio representative, poses with a Coast Guard airboat rescue crew before going onto the ice during Icy Resolve 2013, a full-scale rescue exercise at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013. The Coast Guard participated in the training exercise with partner rescue agencies to implement and evaluate response plans, capabilities and coordination for a mass rescue operation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (2nd from left), an Ohio representative, poses with a Coast Guard airboat rescue crew before going onto the ice during Icy Resolve 2013, a full-scale rescue exercise at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013.

The Response

Ice rescue crews participating in the Icy Resolve 2013 mass rescue full-scale exercise deploy from Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013. First responders from more than two dozen local, state and federal agencies participated in the exercise. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Air Station Detroit

Ice rescue crews participating in the Icy Resolve 2013 mass rescue full-scale exercise deploy from Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013.

There was a lot of adrenaline flowing during the exercise, because everyone involved was responding as if this event actually happened. The intent is for everyone involved to learn what it would take to respond to a real-life emergency of this magnitude. Dozens of people trudged across the ice, powerful engines revved airboat fans, and helicopters circled low overhead to spot and assist the survivors.In order to get the most practice, we divided the crash site into a near-shore “short-haul” and a “long-haul” site approximately ½ mile off-shore.Each site had an on-scene coordinator, another ICS designation that puts one person in charge of all activities at a particular location. During large emergencies, there can be joint OSCs – one from the Coast Guard and one from a participating fire department or dive team keeping track of rescuers deployed and victims retrieved and transferred to EMS.

Most of these pictures were taken at the short-haul site of the exercise, where the rescuers walked out on the ice to recover people in distress. The ice here was not very thick, so it could not support the weight of the airboats. The long-haul site was in Sandusky Bay to the south, where the ice was much thicker.   

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A rescue swimmer deploys from an MH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter during Icy Resolve 2013 mass rescue full-scale exercise at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, Feb. 9, 2013.

You can see some of the different assets the Coast Guard normally uses to conduct ice rescues from shore here.

Be Safe
It can be treacherous to spend time out on the ice if you’re not wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. All of the “victims” of this simulated aviation accident had to be trained ice rescuers, so ice rescue teams from Coast Guard Stations Lorain and Toledo got to jump in the holes that were cut in the ice with chainsaws, and wait to be rescued. So, even those playing the victims were trained and equipped to go out onto the ice and into the freezing water. We took no chances with their safety.

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Coast Guard members acting as simulated victims await rescue in an opening in frozen Lake Erie during Icy Resolve 2013.

If you decide to venture out onto the ice for recreation, be sure that you are appropriately outfitted to get yourself out of initial danger, so that you can survive long enough to call for help. Please don’t rely on cell phone communication because they can be unreliable in the water or on the ice. Instead, invest in a VHF-FM marine radio, which are designed to withstand outdoor conditions. Also, never go out alone or without telling someone where you are going to be and when you expect to return.

When venturing out on the ice, a person should remember the acronym I.C.E.:

Intelligence – know the weather and ice conditions, know where you are going, and know how to call for help. Never go out alone.

Clothing – have the proper clothing to prevent hypothermia. Wear a waterproof exposure suit and a life preserver.

Equipment – have the proper equipment. Carry two ice picks or screwdrivers, which can give you a grip to pull yourself out of the ice if you fall through and are much more effective than bare hands. Carry a whistle or noise maker to alert people that you are in distress. Carry a cellular phone or marine band radio in a waterproof container so that you can call for help if you come across trouble.

Click here to read a news release with more photos from Icy Resolve 2013.

Click here to watch videos from the full-scale exercise.

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