What would happen if the power went out across Wisconsin because of a cyber or physical attack on the power grid?
State emergency officials are testing that scenario Tuesday by pulling together about 1,000 emergency responders for the first of a three-day “Dark Sky” training exercise.
No actual power outages are part of the training.
It will take place in Dane, Brown, Milwaukee, Calumet, Outagamie, Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties.
About 2.2 million people live in those seven counties, a little more than a third of the state’s 5.8 million residents.
“Dark Sky provides an incredible opportunity for our first responders, the National Guard, emergency management officials and our private utility industry partners, to exercise our processes now, so we are better prepared for threats to the power grid,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general.
Madison-area residents and others in the counties included in Dark Sky could notice the increased presence of emergency responders, military personnel, vehicles and equipment, and also drones that will be used in the exercise.
But National Guard spokesman Capt. Joe Trovato said Dane County residents likely won’t notice an increased military or emergency worker presence as part of the drill.
Most of the increased police and military presence will be in Omro in Winnebago County, he said.
An Alliant Energy facility in Fond du Lac County will be part of the exercise, and National Guard soldiers will conduct door-to-door health and welfare checks in Omro, a city of 3,500 people about 10 miles west of Oshkosh.
The goal is to increase understanding of the coordination, policies and procedures required to conduct a joint inter-agency response to cyber and physical threats to critical infrastructure in Wisconsin.
“Our emergency management community must be prepared to deal with the myriad scenarios and challenges posed by a long-term mass power outage,” Dunbar said. “By training together, we continue building meaningful relationships that leave us better positioned to respond to a real-world situation.”
County emergency operations centers, municipal command posts, the American Red Cross, Wisconsin National Guard, federal agencies, the state Emergency Operations Center and Business Emergency Operations Center will all play a role in Dark Sky.
The exercise will also test the abilities of public- and private-sector officials to work directly with local residents affected by critical infrastructure failures, including coordinating fuel distribution, cyber response and intelligence sharing, and mass care shelters.
In Dane County, the emergency management center will be fully staffed for the event to train for mass power failures and involve representatives from county agencies, hospitals and organizations like the Salvation Army, said Dane County Emergency Management spokesman J. McLellan.
“Electricity is one of those things people take for granted in their everyday lives,” he said.
State Journal reporter Chris Aadland contributed to this report.