MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (WJMN) — The mass evacuation exercise on Mackinac Island beginning Thursday may be the first of its kind, according to Mackinac County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Kasper.

The Mackinac County Office of Emergency Management announced an exercise simulating a mass evacuation of the island on Thursday, Sept. 7 from noon to 6 p.m.

The Michigan National Guard 1437th Bridging Company is a big part of the operation, helping to build a temporary port.

At a press conference ahead of the operation, one official said only 23 people would be taken off the island in the simulation, but if they can do 23, then they could do 23,000.

“Now that we have cruise ships coming into the area, we have a lot more congestion in the straits area. Our concerns started to turn to, what if we lost that port?” said Mackinac County Emergency Management Coordinator, Mike Kasper. “So, if I’ve got 30,000 people that came onto the island that didn’t bring a suitcase, now I’ve got to take care of them and get them back off that island and how we do that if we can’t use the port for whatever reason.

“One of the wonderful things we have in the Upper Peninsula between Ishpeming and Sault Ste. Marie is the bridging companies. That’s what they do for the military is they build temporary bridges. So, I thought, if they can build a bridge, you can drive an Abrams tank over, I’m pretty sure they can build me a little section of dock. I’ve just got to figure out how I can make that happen.”

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Aircraft and boats participating in the exercise will be traversing the waters between the airport and landing on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8.