Response exercises focus on natural disasters

Response exercises focus on natural disasters

Emergency responders have been engaging in exercises and drills involving natural disasters to enhance efficiency and cooperation among cooperating responding agencies and safety awareness among civilians.

RESPONSE `98 is one example. This emergency management exercise, which was in progress at press time (April 20-24), included thousands of emergency management personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and 26 other federal and voluntary agencies; the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, and New York; the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland; and numerous private sector organizations and volunteer groups, including the Weather Channel, Bell Atlantic, Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Catholic Charities, and the Salvation Army. The exercise has been under development for about 18 months at a federal cost of $600,000.

“A catastrophic hurricane developing over the past week in the Mid-Atlantic and threatening the northeast United States and Canada, between New Jersey and Newfoundland” is how a mock bulletin described the “disaster” to exercise participants. Scenario details for the “disaster” included the following: It is 5 p.m. on a Labor Day weekend; “Hurricane Janet” has winds of 60 mph; hospitals are overrun with casualties; sewage treatment plants are hindered; the water supply becomes contaminated; power and telephone service is knocked out to more than half of New Jersey homes; roads, mass transportation, bridges, and airports are wrecked; and looting is going on.

The drill, conducted for eight hours on each of the days, required workers to handle major fires, clean up hazardous materials, coordinate evacuation, haul debris, control flooding, reroute traffic, and contend with limited electricity and other forms of power.

Exercise sites in the United States included FEMA`s Emergency Information and Coordination Center in Washington, D.C.; the federal regional operations centers in Maynard, Mass. and New York City, N.Y.; and state emergency operations centers in Hartford, Conn.; Framingham, Mass.; Augusta, Me.; Concord, N. H.; Trenton, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; and Waterbury, Vt.

The “Severe Weather Preparedness Campaign” launched in Virginia took place on March 24, which was declared “Tornado Preparedness Day” by Governor Jim Gilmore. On that date, schools and businesses participated in a tornado drill during which they were taught how to receive and respond to a tornado warning. The National Weather Services (NWS) provided a School Emergency Planning Guide, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Services (VDES) Public Information Office offered various materials on tornado preparedness. The NWS activated the NOAA Weather radio statewide at 10 a.m. with a test tornado warning.

According to Janet Clements, VDES public relations coordinator, this year`s drill was a pilot test involving the voluntary participation of school systems in about 15 to 20 localities in the vicinity of Norfolk. The objective for next year`s drill, she adds, will be to go statewide. The program, she explains, not only helps to prepare the youngsters to react to a tornado warning in a safe manner but also helps to alleviate their anxieties. She also noted that there are differences between fire and tornado drills–for example, in the former, students must leave the building, whereas in the latter, they must find a safe refuge area within the school.

Also in Virginia, the National Hurricane Conference and the 13th Annual Conference on Technology in Emergency Management were hosted by Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Among the workshops presented at the Hurricane Conference were those relevant to coastal regions that would be directly affected by a hurricane, communities threatened by the flooding preceding and following hurricanes, and jurisdictions serving as inland sheltering locations during mass evacuations.

The Technology in Emergency Management Conference presented the latest technology available, including robotics, remote sensing systems, and weather information technology. A workshop on cyberterrorism and methods for evaluating and using it effectively was part of the program.

For additional information and outreach ideas on the tornado drill, contact Clements at (804) 897-6510, e-mail: jclements.des @state.va.us. Information on the National Hurricane Conference is available from Jim Talbot at (757) 441-5600. Call Mark Pennington at (804) 897-6532 for information on the technology conference.

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