AUGUSTA — Area police and firefighters spent several hours Tuesday night responding to a staged scenario in which a woman with a gun at the State House had taken a hostage and planted a bomb outside the nearby Maine State Museum — while a massive winter storm had knocked out power and cellphone coverage to much of the state.

That was the scenario created by the Maine National Guard for a training exercise designed to gauge cooperation and communication among agencies responding to a crisis under difficult circumstances.

“We have not done this scale at a large public facility,” said Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland. “There will be a great deal learned from this exercise.”

The training involved multiple agencies, including Augusta’s police and fire departments, the Maine State Police and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, though there was little activity inside or outside the State House to suggest a large-scale operation. Several officers roamed the State House and the Burton M. Cross State Office Building during a mock evacuation while Augusta rescue workers were parked outside. The state police mobile incident command center was set up at the far end of the parking lot. The exercise itself, however, was largely focused on communication. Evaluators, some of whom trailed the officers as they cleared the buildings, took notes on how well the agencies maintained those communications.

“All that information will be critiqued at the end,” McCausland said. “It’s not so much what we do right; it’s what we need to improve.”

Police frequently train for emergency situations, such as an active shooter at schools, but there are fewer opportunities to practice scenarios at a public building such as the State House, McCausland said.

“There are variables that will take place, because we’re dealing with a large, public facility,” McCausland said. The operation affords the opportunity to learn what those variables are and how to handle them.

The drill was part of Vigilant Guard, a four-day exercise organized by the Maine National Guard that eventually will involve about 3,000 military and civilian emergency responders from Maine, Canada, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere in New England. Sponsored by the U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, this is the first Vigilant Guard exercise to be held in Maine, Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine National Guard, said earlier this week. Steinbuchel said it has taken about a year to plan the exercises.

“This is the first one in New England,” he said. “They don’t come by very often. The fact that Maine was chosen is pretty cool.”

The overarching event will be a severe ice storm that has caused widespread power outages, Steinbuchel said. There also will be heavy snow, up to 36 inches, coupled with blizzard conditions, that lead to the collapse of several buildings throughout New England. There will be 9 million people without power. Water delivery will be affected. Communications will be compromised.

In the midst of the chaos, there will be a number of other critical events, including hazardous-material incidents in Calais, Portland and the University of Maine, and a bus accident in Jackman. The drill began Tuesday with a collapsed building with multiple casualties in Brunswick and power loss and structural failures at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus that required patients to be relocated.

“The agencies will be pushed to use their knowledge and expertise in assessing storm damages, (hazardous materials) identification, decontamination, search and rescue, patient extraction, triage and other emergency response measures,” Steinbuchel said. “Just as in real life, these fictional events will create consequences that will require emergency intervention.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642[email protected]

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