A large-scale, multi-agency search and rescue exercise will be in Juneau’s backyard this weekend as Dan Moller Bowl on Douglas Island will be the site of a mock helicopter crash and resulting avalanche.
The Alaska State Troopers and the United States Coast Guard, the main two groups responsible for search and rescue missions in Alaska, will be jointly responsible for coordinating their own personnel as well as supporting agencies which include the Civil Air Patrol, SEADOGS, Juneau Mountain Rescue, Douglas Mountain Rescue, Juneau Snow Mobile Club, Temsco, U.S. Forest Service, Juneau Police Department and the Bartlett Regional Hospital ambulance and staff.
“Although we both have the capability and authority to handle either, their expertise is on the water and ours on land,” Trooper Jeff Landvatter said. “To accomplish that, we both rely on different entities to lend support or implement actions. All of the supporting groups are professional groups on their own and do their own monthly training but very seldom do they get together in the whole and train together. That was the idea behind this exercise.”
The agencies involved met last weekend for classroom SAR training. The field training will move outdoors on Saturday, which allows the SAR personnel to practice new skills they’ve acquired and hone their existing skills.
The mock event will occur on Sunday.
The scenario is meant to train for and simulate a large-scale response to a controlled crash-landing by a helicopter. The crash triggers subsequent avalanches in the Dan Moller cabin and surrounding trail area and buries the downed helicopter and a group of Nordic skiers.
A base command center will be set up at the Dan Moller Trail Head parking lot and an incident command center will be donated by the Alaska Brewing Company through their rental of the Dan Moller cabin.
The majority of the outdoor training will occur in daylight hours, however some night operations will be carried out.
“Northern southeast is really fortunate to have some very professional volunteers that are capable of doing a variety of search and rescue,” Landvatter said. “We are really lucky to have such a high level of active volunteers in the area which increases the odds of someone being rescued if they do get into trouble.”
The Dan Moller Trail is still open to the public this weekend. Juneau and Douglas residents should be aware there will be a lot more activity than usual in that area.
“If somebody is looking for a nice quiet hike up to the Dan Moller Cabin, this weekend may not be the weekend to do that,” Landvatter said. “And we want the local residents to know what the activity is so people do not think there is an actual SAR emergency going on.”
It is estimated that more than 50 volunteers could be moving in and out of the training area each day. This is the largest SAR exercise and scope of incidence in Alaska to date.
“Just to get everybody involved we threw a bunch of things into the scenario,” CBJ emergency planning coordinator and avalanche forecaster Tom Mattice said. “To get everybody to play together and see whose radios contact whom.”
The coast guard helicopter will drop an IPIRB to initiate the exercise. The signal will be transmitted through the state coordination center starting the USCG’s agency involvement.
A Nordic skier will call 911 to alert troopers who then dispatch their half of the operation.
As per protocol, if Temsco loses contact with a chopper they will send one up to search, as will civil air patrols. Temsco will fly to Eaglecrest and pick up a strike team of avalanche responders and then sling load two snowmobiles and riders into the event zone.
Juneau Mountain Rescue, recognized internationally as a search team (as is Sitka Mountain Rescue), a ranking that requires a very high standard of testing to achieve, will be deployed.
Interactions with ground and air personnel will be crucial training.
“It is very complex,” Mattice said. “It has grown into a monster. We just hope to get everyone to play right. And if we leave mentioning anybody please don’t be offended. We have people who are in more than one group. That is the nature of Juneau, when people care they care in multiple directions. Everyone wears multiple hats.”
The Capital City Fire and Rescue rope team will train with the groups but not participate in the exercise. They will evaluate the operations.
The Juneau Snowmobile Club is involved for the first time as a major facilitator and responder.
The volunteer fire department will do ambulatory patient transfers and the hospital will use that transfer to train their staff.
The USCG will be imbedding personnel with the Incident Command to assist with communications and control for units and the exercise.
Landvatter and Matice do not encourage people to make special trips to the area for observing the exercise, as “there will be enough staged chaos already.”
Any concerns should be addressed by calling Trp. Landvatter or Sgt. Birk at the AST, 465-4000.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.