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Emergency response drills build partnerships through preparedness, planning

On a recent hot July day, local, state and federal agencies, along with response contractors, gathered at a Rogers City inlet to participate in an emergency response drill simulating a 1.3-million-gallon diesel release from a large storage tank into Lake Huron. 

EGLE staff observing field response tactics for a simulated oil spill.

EGLE staffers observe field response tactics for a simulated oil spill in Rogers City. 


Responders in safety gear used an air-powered line thrower to shoot a line of boom, a floating absorbent barrier, at the location of the simulated entry point to contain the initial leak. Responders also took boats into a connecting water body to install additional lines of boom, while other agencies monitored water currents, weather conditions and air patterns to track the simulated plume. Media from as far as Ann Arbor also attended the drill, adding to the reality factor.

“Having a plan and standing group to complete updates when needed is only one part of being prepared for an emergency. A critical step is exercising these plans and mobilizing resources to respond to a simulated emergency,” said Jay Eickholt, emergency management coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and who also attended the drill.

Response experts completed field deployments of oil capturing equipment on one day, giving observers a chance to witness the strategies for an emergency. The following days were spent participating in a functional emergency preparedness exercise that placed staff from EGLE in various Incident Command System (ICS) positions to assist local first responders with technical issues related to freshwater impacts, drinking water concerns, and recovery and disposal of oiled response gear.

A key component to the exercise is establishing connections with agencies during a joint activity while collaborating on response strategies.

EGLE participates in emergency planning with federal and local response entities through three Area Committees that cover all of Michigan. The EPA and Coast Guard are lead coordinators for these committees, which are tasked with emergency response planning for potential worst-case discharges on land and water within a geographic region. EGLE serves in an advisory role to the federal agencies as part of the Area Committee and brings in emergency response leads from across EGLE to advise on specific threats and response strategies.

Biodegradable fluorescent dye is dispersed to simulate oil on water to verify planning assumptions on where oil may collect.

Biodegradable fluorescent dye is dispersed to simulate oil on water to verify planning assumptions on where oil may collect. 


A primary duty of the Area Committee is to establish and maintain an Area Contingency Plan, which considers response capabilities and geographic considerations for the area covered by Area Contingency Plan or a Sub-Area Contingency Plan. Part of these plans is to identify geographic response strategies that could be used to respond to a worst-case discharge from either a land based or on-water source.

The July exercise is not the only time this year when EGLE and the State of Michigan participate in testing plans and exercising strategies. Throughout the year, EGLE participates in drills locally and in the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to keep skills sharp and improve upon findings from the previous exercise.

“All this is done to ensure state, local, and federal agencies can adequately respond to an emergency anywhere at any time and keep the residents of Michigan and our natural resources protected,” Eickholt said.