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Emergency 101 – Spring Exercise

How disaster response agencies prepare for disasters

 

by Home Page Staff - May 3, 2019

Today Benton Best of Emergency 101 poses the question: how do disaster response agencies prepare for disasters? We’re all familiar with taking courses in a classroom, but is that enough to prepare emergency services organizations for the “big one”? In fact, most Emergency Management agencies regularly perform functional or full-scale exercises to test their capabilities in enacting emergency plans.

On Tuesday, March 26th, 2019, the Tioga County Emergency Management Agency held such an exercise at our County Emergency Operations Center or, “EOC”, in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. The County’s exercise was just one piece in a statewide puzzle of participants, as several other counties, voluntary organizations active in a disaster, private sector organizations, and State agencies also participated in what is known as the “statewide spring weather exercise.”

Long before the exercise day, representatives from multiple counties and the state met almost weekly to discuss the objectives of the exercise and what capabilities they wanted to test. Here in Tioga County, we wanted to test the activation and de-mobilization of our Emergency Operations Center, as well as information sharing between the EOC and critical infrastructure facilities. When designing an exercise, it is imperative to first identify the specific capabilities which are to be tested. Then a scenario can be developed.

The scenario for this exercise was severe spring weather. According to the scenario, heavy thunderstorms and a high likelihood of tornadoes caused the National Weather Service to put out a simulated severe weather watch to the participating counties. This causes the EOC to begin identifying prevention & mitigation measures which can be enacted throughout the County. Things like sending out Swift911 alerts to citizens’ phones so that they’re aware of the potential danger, alerting emergency responders such as EMS, Fire and Police, so that they can stand by at their station in case their needed. Or even calling in additional staff to the EOC to help out if needed.

Once the capabilities we want to test have been identified and the scenario for the mock incident has been created, the next step is to begin developing what are called “injects.” An inject is a new piece of information delivered to the exercise participants. Sometimes this can be basic information such as “a tornado warning has been issued for your County.” Sometimes, it can be something challenging such as “the roof of the school gymnasium has collapsed.” Even though it’s simulated, it puts the players in the position where they need to respond to the inject as if it happened in real life.

During the exercise on March 26th, some of the simulated injects in the exercise included severe damage to roadways and buildings, widespread power outages, and finally a communications outage which cut of all cellular phone service in the area. This really tested EOC staff!

So how do exercise participants keep all of the injects straight?

The Master Scenario Events List, or MSEL, outlines the timeline of the exercise and spells out specifically when, on the exercise timeline, each inject should be delivered. This helps the facilitators keep the injects straight, and evaluate the players’ responses once they are given an inject.
During the March exercise, some of the participants included staff from the Tioga County Department of Emergency Services, Southern Tioga School District, American Red Cross, several local elder care facilities, and the Auxiliary Communications Service or “Ham” radio operators.
We are very grateful to have such wonderful participation in exercises here, and look forward to including more partners in the future.

Credits:

Videography: Andrew Moore

Video Editing: Andrew Moore

 

Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by Matthews Motor Company, Automax

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