UPDATE: Showcasing the DNR: Incident management team aids vaccination effort at Ford Field

Share or view as webpage  |  Update preferences

- Showcasing the DNR -

A line is shown at Ford Field of people waiting for their chance to be vaccinated.

NOTE: This is an updated version of the Showcasing the DNR story issued earlier this morning. This version clarifies some details related to the rollout of the mass vaccine operation.

Incident management team aids vaccination effort at Ford Field

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A massive effort to vaccinate people in the Detroit area against COVID-19 rolled out recently with mobile clinics and a clinic at Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play football.

The effort, now inoculating thousands daily, has gotten up and running with an assist from people who are used to jumping in and helping at a moment’s notice – members of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources incident management teams.

Following strict protocols, known as the incident command system, the teams help coordinate what’s happening on the ground, whether it’s a forest fire, a disaster like the historic 2018 flooding in Houghton County or even helping set up a medical site in case of emergency at the presidential inauguration in January.

People go into booths to be vaccinated at Ford Field in Detroit

“We organize everything so people can function in the roles they need to function in,” said Jennifer Burnham, a DNR forester who has a decade of experience on incident management teams. She’s in planning, which means daily briefings about what’s going on and what’s happening next, as well as overseeing mapping and tracking of resources.

Ford Field hadn’t yet been chosen as the vaccination site when the first DNR team was recruited to help the Michigan State Police, the State Emergency Operations Center and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services set up a mass vaccination operation.

“All the partners involved had the forethought to set this up as seamlessly as possible and still practice COVID-19 mitigation,” said Mike Janisse, a DNR forest fire supervisor, who led the first incident management team to work on the project.

His group, which included Burnham, was called into action Feb. 24 and arrived at Ford Field March 4. They rotated out team members March 13, and a new DNR team led by Brian Mensch rotated in March 14. A third team took over March 28 and has now concluded its work. At this point, it has not been determined whether a fourth team will be sent to Ford Field.

Mensch’s team was previously called into action last April at Detroit’s TCF Center to set up a field hospital with the capacity for hundreds of COVID-19 patients if area hospitals were full.

Everyone contributing their own area of expertise is key in an emergency management situation, Janisse said.

People go into booth at Ford Field in Detroit to receive their coronavirus vaccines.

“It is amazing how, if we follow the process, we can tackle any type of incident,” he said.

For example, DNR mapping experts Corey Luoto and Holly Reed developed dashboards to track the number of vaccinations taking place and other data required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“They are wizards,” Janisse said. “It is amazing what they can do to organize this information in a useful way.”

Besides tracking data, the teams have been responsible for tracking personal protection equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns, and ordering supplies as needed to make sure the people who are administering the vaccine have everything they need. 

“One issue might be that we don’t have enough wheelchairs at a certain location to meet the needs for people who might require a wheelchair, so we would order more of them for that facility,” Janisse said.

There are four incident management teams in the state: two in the Upper Peninsula and two in the Lower Peninsula. About 45 people are dedicated to the teams year-round.

Team members get training and qualifications through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group and western fire assignments. There also are several team members who are part of multistate teams, which allow them to assist on western fires each year. Since large fires are relatively rare in Michigan, being part of these other teams allows Michigan members to keep up their qualifications and get more experience so they can be effective when something does happen in Michigan.

Assignments such as the inauguration, the TCF Center hospital and Ford Field vaccination clinic are relatively new for the incident management teams. Legislation was changed in 2018 to allow the teams to become involved in natural disasters and events beyond wildfires.

Teams can vary in size. Some have a half-dozen members; others have many more depending on the incident. They most often include a leader, public information officer, liaison to work with other organizations, and people with planning, logistics and operations expertise.

All of them are necessary to a smooth operation, Janisse said.

“My saying to the team is, it doesn’t matter if they’re communications, logistics or safety, they’re never a ‘just,’ such as ‘just logistics,’” he said. “Everybody brings value to the team for its success, and that’s how we make the world go around.”

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories in our archive at Michigan.gov/DNRStories. To subscribe to upcoming Showcasing articles, sign up for free email delivery at Michigan.gov/DNR.

/Note to editors: Contact: John Pepin, Showcasing the DNR series editor, 906-226-1352. Accompanying photos and a text-only version of this story are available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Text-only version-Showcasing Extra Story-IMT Detroit

Ford: An overview of Ford Field in Detroit is shown. The field is currently being used as a vaccine clinic for the coronavirus.

Line: People line up for their turn to get vaccinated at Ford Field in Detroit.

Vaccines and Vaccines-2: People wait to go into booths at Ford Field in Detroit to be vaccinated against the coronavirus./

DNR COVID-19 RESPONSE: For details on affected DNR facilities and services, visit this webpage. Follow state actions and guidelines at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.