Emergency exercise planned for Oct, 5

Friday, July 23, 2010

Close your eyes and imagine summer heat fading and a good old-fashioned Missouri ice storm raging for 36 hours followed by snow and bitter winter cold.

The power lines come down under the weight of accumulated ice or under the mass of falling branches and trees.

Electric heaters cease functioning along with phones. Lacking power to the towers, even cell phones are nonfunctional. Those few road open remain extremely dangerous.

Now add in the peak of flu season. The hospitals, both Fitzgibbon and I-70, are projected to be swamped.

It is the scenario emergency planners from emergency service agencies throughout Saline County are using for an exercise scheduled for Oct. 5.

"We had (a similar situation) that hit north of us and that's pretty much what happened," said Russ Donnell, assistant director and emergency planner for the Saline County Health Department.

With lessons from the past in mind, representatives from emergency services across the county met at the Health Department for an organizational meeting Thursday, July 22.

Non-governmental organizations like the American Red Cross and Ministerial Alliance joined with representatives from the ambulance services, Saline County E911, hospitals and the health department to discuss planning for the exercise.

"The main thing to consider was: Do we have the support to do the exercise?" Donnell said. "The answer is yes. The organizations want to conduct an emergency exercise."

Among the concerns being considered by planners are specific community needs.

A representative of Slater Ambulance pointed out that shelters might need to be community-specific.

"We can't move a large number of people to the hospital under those conditions," he said.

Sheltering locations is one of the concerns planners have to consider. Donnell said the municipalities need to file memorandums of understanding, which are agreements spelling out the terms and responsibilities of emergency use of buildings and equipment.

Another issue of concern is communications. Notifying people of the need to shelter in place becomes much harder when phone lines are out and power outages may prevent the use of portable radios.

Among the options considered were reverse 911 calls, which is a broadcast call from the E911 Center advising residents of an emergency; radio communication, which consists of asking local radio station to transmit emergency information; and using law enforcement to use vehicle-mounted public address systems to notify the public.

Any emergency requires a certain amount of self-rescue by residents. Missouri families, communities, businesses and schools need to take steps today to

prepare for an emergency, reads the Missouri Ready in 3 webpage.

The exercise is planned to operate under the National Incident Management System. NIMS provides a framework for emergency services to work together. It has been used successfully in numerous small emergencies and in large situations such as the Red River flooding in North Dakota.

A full selection of NIMS training courses are available online through FEMA at http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/NIMSTrainingCourses.shtm.

When planners come back together at the Aug. 12 meeting, they will discuss what resources their community has and may need.

Just getting the emergency service planners together has made inroads to improving the responses in an emergency, said E911 Director Stacie Smith.

Contact Pat Nolan at



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