Showcasing the DNR: DNR's incident management set to respond to 'all hazards'

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A bulldozer works to repair a trail damaged in the June flooding in Houghton County.

DNR's incident management teams are ready to respond

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A heavy equipment operator works to repair a trail in Houghton County.

Most people in Michigan know the Department of Natural Resources plays a critical role in keeping people, homes, forests, fields and other resources protected when wildfires take off.  

Throughout the state, DNR staff members stand trained and ready for dispatchers to send them off to the next fire. What most people don’t know is how that same training prepares those firefighters for all kinds of other disasters.

The DNR Forest Resources Division supports four incident management teams, two each in the Upper and Lower peninsulas.

While their primary job is coordinating response to large fires, the teams’ training under the National Incident Management System also prepares them to assist in just about any other catastrophe.

Many team members attend workshops specifically geared to “all hazard” response. There, they run through simulations of tornadoes, floods and many other emergency situations.

Small incidents requiring only a few people, who are involved for a short length of time, don’t really need oversight from an incident management team. But when lots of people and multiple agencies get involved for more than a day or two, an incident management team can step in to coordinate the effort.

“Incident management teams help bring organization to chaos,” said Jim Fisher, the DNR’s fire section manager. “A team can expand or contract to fit the situation at hand. The more complex the incident, the bigger the team.”

DNR Director Keith Creagh visits with the incident management team in Houghton County.

Team members on a large fire or other incident in Michigan might be responsible for requesting and checking in responders and equipment, developing strategies to attack the problem, coordinating tasks and communications among responding agencies, providing food, supplies and lodging for staff, producing incident maps and weather reports, collecting information for the media, and so on.

DNR teams are managed by the Forest Resources Division but include members from other DNR divisions who help with communications, finances and logistics.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 17, torrential rains sent emergency responders in Houghton County into action. The National Weather Service reported 7 inches of rain fell over nine hours.

The rainfall, coupled with the steep topography in and around Houghton and Hancock, resulted in dozens and dozens of roads, homes and businesses damaged or destroyed by flash floods, landslides and cave-ins.

According to plan, Houghton County’s emergency operations center mobilized its own incident management team.

At the same time, the storm-ravaged area recreational trails and boat ramps, elicited a response from DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division.

Jeff Kakuk, western Upper Peninsula trails specialist for the DNR, started checking local trails later that same day. He quickly determined the task before him was enormous, well beyond what could be handled with local staff.

A section of trail is shown where floodwaters sliced through the underlying embankment.

DNR officials soon decided an incident management team could help Kakuk and others start wrapping their arms around this overwhelming situation.

By Wednesday morning, team members began arriving from across the state. The Quincy-Franklin-Hancock Townships Volunteer Fire Department offered its fire hall for use as DNR’s incident command post.

Brian Mensch, DNR fire supervisor at nearby Baraga, stepped in as incident commander to lead the team.

“Our first job was to size up the damage to the local DNR trails and close off the damaged portions of the trail system as quickly as possible for public safety,” Mensch said.

During the next several days, DNR ground crews documented 150 washouts on about 60 miles of trails.

After putting up fencing and signs to close off critical trail access points, they started the lengthy process of repairing washouts and regrading eroded trail surfaces. Staff also dug out plugged culverts and delivered and spread gravel on storm-damaged trails.

Just 12 days after the rains, the DNR Forest Resources and Parks and Recreation divisions’ staffers had reopened more than 40 miles of trails and two boating access sites in the county, which needed only minor repairs. 

That’s about where the incident management team’s work ended. It had taken care of immediate public safety concerns, assessed the storm damage and got ground crews rolling on initial trail repairs.

A DNR crew works to repair a damaged portion of the Lake Linden Trail.

Team members had engaged the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and a private engineering firm to help plan repairs of the major trail washouts. Cost estimates had been delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for potential federal disaster funding.

“At that point, the team handed things back over to Parks and Recreation Division staff to oversee and implement the long recovery process, with the goal of restoring the recreation infrastructure so important to the Copper Country economy,” Kakuk said.

Incident management team members returned to their home stations after spending just over a week at the incident.

It will take quite some time before things are back to normal in Houghton County, but the DNR’s incident management team members are back to their own normal – waiting for the next dispatch to a wildfire or whatever else nature throws in their direction.

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/Note to editors: Media contact: John Pepin, 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Crew: A Michigan Department of Natural Resources trail crew from Grayling works on the Lake Linden Trail just outside Hancock.

Damage: Flooding damage to the Lily Pond boating access site in Houghton County is shown.

Debris: Michigan conservation officers inspect debris washed into the Portage Canal in Houghton County after the June 17 flooding event.

Repair: A heavy equipment operator works on repairs to a trail near Hancock in Houghton County.

Slice: A section of the Lake Linden Trail sliced through by flood waters is shown.

Survey: Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh (right) and Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle surveyed parts of Houghton County in June to see trails, road and boating access site flooding damage first-hand.

Talks: Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh (second from left) talks with staff from the DNR’s incident command post set up in Hancock.

Washout: One of the significant washouts along the Lake Linden Trail in Houghton County is shown.

Water: A bulldozer works to repair a section of trail where damage was caused in June in Houghton County./

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to