City of Elk River uses Hockey Day event to practice its emergency operations

Local public safety officials have been busy preparing for Hockey Day Minnesota in Elk River.  

The weeklong event, which concludes Saturday, Jan. 18, with a series of nationally televised hockey games in Handke Stadium, is providing an opportunity for public safety and government officials to practice emergency response operations. In addition to providing on-site security and fire and emergency medical service resources, public safety personnel and government officials will be setting up a full-incident command center to provide on-site emergency response command and coordination.

“Planned events, such as Hockey Day Minnesota, provide us a unique opportunity to practice emergency response procedures,” said Elk River Fire Chief T. John Cunningham, who is also the city’s emergency management director. During a large-scale incident or disaster, public safety personnel implement the Incident Command System , a nationally recognized program to help coordinate emergency response operations. While the incident command center will be set up primarily for training purposes, personnel will be in a position to coordinate any emergency response if it were to occur.

According to Cunningham, exercises such as Operation Penalty Box help staff become more familiar with running complex incidents.

“While large disasters are thankfully infrequent, they do happen. We need to be prepared for any number of possibilities, whether they are the result of a man-made or natural occurrence.”

Operation Penalty Box will involve participants from not only the public safety sector but city administration, public works, finance, utilities, building safety and planning. The exercise comes at the conclusion of web-based training many staff recently completed on emergency response operations.

On Dec. 5, Cunningham commanded a multi-agency response to a large apartment fire in Elk River. The ICS was implemented in this event, which helped agencies collaborate on strategies and tactics not only relating to the fire, but also ensuring that all residents had been accounted for. ICS, which was developed out of the fire service in the 1970s, has now been adopted nationally as the standard response model for all public safety platforms.

“Its adaptability and scalability enables it to be applied to any number of situations and events,” Cunningham said.

As part of the exercise, Operation Penalty Box will be posting regular updates to various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag HDM2014.

“Our goal is to keep visitors updated to any pertinent information regarding the event, such as traffic concerns,” said Police Chief Brad Rolfe.  Additional law enforcement personnel, including reserve officers, will be staffing the event.

A task force composed of various Elk River city departments, including police and fire, plus Sherburne County Emergency Services, the Elk River Area School District and other key stakeholders, was developed in advance to help prepare an emergency response plan for Hockey Day Minnesota. Named Operation Penalty Box, the exercise will culminate on Saturday as officials gather on-site and don vests representing their specific role that day, such as serving as the incident commander, coordinating logistical needs or acting as the public information officer.

Calvin Portner, Elk River’s city administrator, said the city is committed to providing a safe and enjoyable venue for Hockey Day Minnesota.

“The steering committee has done a terrific job of bringing to fruition a wonderful event. City staff, along with representatives from Sherburne County Emergency Services and the school district, are equally committed to making this event a success,” he said.