The exercise Thursday near downtown Madison will involve more than 400 people from 20 agencies. The goal is to test how well police, hospitals and first responders coordinate during a mass-casualty emergency.
"We're going to make this as realistic as possible," said Marc Lovicott, a spokesman for University of Wisconsin-Madison police. "People will be made up to look like real victims, there'll be a real tactical response. We're really trying to test everything - see what we're doing well, what we need to improve."
Law enforcement agencies, hospitals and others conduct exercises to make sure they're ready to handle crisis situations. They discuss their plans verbally, set up staging areas to practice specific skills and assemble large-scale simulations like this.
Simulated emergencies are common at airports and other places where large numbers of people gather. Lovicott said he believed this is the first time a crisis simulation was being conducted at a Wisconsin sporting venue.
Neighbors are being warned about the event, which will start around 7 a.m. with the sound of an exploding bomb rumbling through the stadium. Authorities will try to apprehend at least one individual, Lovicott said, and fire officials may have to respond to imaginary fires.
Responders aren't being told much more than that, and will have to figure things out on the fly, he said.
The scenario is set up as a bombing during a Fun Run, instead of the far more complicated setting of a stadium packed during a Saturday football game. The road outside Camp Randall will be closed off from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. to keep things clear for emergency responders.
The advance preparations raise a question about accuracy. If a simulation is so carefully staged, does it really prepare responders for the unpredictable chaos they could face in real life? For example, in a real emergency spectators might stampede out of the stadium, traffic jams might prevent authorities from responding promptly and hysterical bystanders might complicate responses.
There's no way to fully prepare for a frenzied situation, acknowledged Lt. Tamara Kowalski of the UW-Madison police department. But the point isn't so much to replicate every possibility as to make sure that multiple agencies, each with its own set of policies and response plans, can come together as an efficient team.
The idea for the simulation came from the UW-Madison police department's emergency management team. Other agencies involved include Madison police, the Dane County sheriff's office, the FBI and the American Red Cross.
Barbara Behling, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said her organization assists in three to five emergency simulations per year at Wisconsin airports, where roughly 100 to 200 people are involved each time. This effort, involving more than 400 people, will be as large-scale an exercise as the state has seen.
"This will really test the capacities of everyone involved," she said. "At this point we think our response plans are really good, but we're always looking at how we can make them better."