Ice Mass Rescue Operation “45 North” Full Scale Exercise

Start Date: 02/26/2022


The 45 North Exercise Scenario: A commuter aircraft declares an in-flight emergency. The aircraft is directed by Air Traffic Control to turn towards Pellston Regional Airport in Pellston, MI to attempt an emergency landing. En-route to Pellston, the situation aboard the aircraft elevates beyond the control of the crew and the aircraft impacts in a rural area near-shore on Lake Michigan (for exercise purposes, Little Traverse Bay was used as the simulated crash site). There are three crew members and 37 passengers aboard the aircraft. Local volunteer fire departments and local law enforcement are first to arrive.

Originally, the 45 North Exercise was planned to take place over two days (Fri 2/25/22 - Sat 2/26/22), but it was changed to a single day event lasting approximately 5.5 hours due to local responders preferring to focus on practicing actual rescue operations on the water. The local response play activities and the ICS 201 planning meeting that typically occur on the first day of a full scale exercise were shifted to another date and location for which HOPE teams were not requested.

A few days before the event, the local central dispatch posted on social media that the 45 North Exercise would include “on-ice” rescue operations and the development of tactical framework for local and federal response plans. They also mentioned that the Coast Guard would be joined by local volunteer and City firefighters, City police, Sheriff’s departments, Emmet County EMS, and Michigan State Police as participants in the drill.

HOPE teams were still expected to arrive in Petoskey, MI on Fri 2/25/22 in order to be briefed and to prepare for deploying the following day in very cold weather (the forecast was for a high of 20º with windy conditions) along the shores of Little Traverse Bay (Lake Michigan). Our planning meeting took place over a pre-arranged dinner in a private banquet room at the Sassy Loon Bar and Grill restaurant inside the Northern Lights Recreation facility in Harbor Springs, MI. Our team overnighted at the Quality Inn in Petoskey, MI, which was a very nice pet-friendly establishment that should be recommended for any future HOPE deployments in the Petoskey area.

On Saturday morning, the HOPE teams drove together to the Incident Command Post at the Emmet County Fairground in Petoskey, MI. After checking in, our entire team received an immediate warm welcome. Many people were excited to meet the dogs and we did not experience any pushback as to why our dogs were there. We set up in a designated corner space inside the building and when the teams were ready, they began to make their rounds visiting participants as they checked in at registration and while they waited for the Players and Safety Brief to begin.

Following the briefing, all participants relocated to the play area at Little Traverse Bay. Holes had previously been drilled in the ice on the lake and this is where the rescue operations took place. Piles of pallets were placed on the ice near the holes and set ablaze to simulate fire and smoke from the plane crash. Several sets of emergency crews were sent down the dock to rescue victims from the holes in the ice and then they returned up the dock to the shore with the rescuees.

After assessing our options within the staging area, we decided to position ourselves near the warming tent being used for triage, while staying out of the way of the rescuers (both outbound and inbound). At times, the dog teams did move around the site to meet participants who were not currently engage in activities, but people also came to visit the dogs while we were stationary in our chosen location. We were asked to bring a dog into the triage tent a few times, but their stay was often short lived as the space inside fairly small, especially with participants and equipment there, and the teams felt that they were in the way.

During the exercise, our teams were exposed to a wide array of emergency response equipment in the play area: fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, ATVs, snowmobiles, gurneys, victim/equipment transport sleds, inflatable rafts, backboards, snow cat carts, a Red Cross Disaster Relief truck serving food and drink, etc. A Coast Guard helicopter arrived during the latter part of the exercise to perform several airborne rescues using their hoist system. In addition, participants were sporting all types of cold weather clothing and protective gear. None of the dogs exhibited a negative reaction to anything they encountered during the drill.

At the conclusion of the exercise (ENDEX), all participants traveled back to the fairgrounds. During the after action de-brief “Hot Wash” following the end of the exercise activities, it was determined by the emergency management and USCG personnel that all of the exercise objectives had been met and that drill had been successful.

Additional Notes:

The HAR was interviewed onsite at the play area, alongside several HOPE teams, by a local news reporter who was covering the drill. We did get a few sound bytes in as part of the segment about the North 45 Exercise that was broadcast on the evening news later that day.

Agency: Charlevoix/Emmet County Emergency Management and United States Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie

Heather Pontious (TL), Julia Meier & Ischgl, Cathy Queen & Parker, Ginger Stratton (TL), Janel Zuranski & Gossamer, Daena Grifka & Kismit, Brenda Ransom (TL), Karen Alvord & Charles, Katy Davis & Sunny, Nick Meier (RM/ Drill Observer)