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Learning through exercise

Friday, May 20, 2011

All-Hazards Incident Management Team (AHIMT) Planning Sections Chief John Silvers kept a watchful eye on the communications during Clay County's participation in the national disaster drill May 16-19. [Order this photo]
* Officials take part in disaster simulations

If an earthquake hits the Wabash Valley, emergency responders in Clay County will be better prepared thanks to a recent national disaster drill.

During May 16-19, local and state emergency responders in Indiana and several other states, including federal officials in Washington D.C. and the White House, participated in a large, multi-state, national-level exercise simulating a natural disaster involving an earthquake.

Clay County Emergency Management Director Bryan Husband talked with local officials about how their roles would change during an emergency situation as part of a national disaster drill organized with Homeland Security. The drill took place May 16-19. [Order this photo]
"This exercise was to show we could communicate with the southern counties if an earthquake took out all normal forms of communications," Clay County Emergency Management Director Bryan Husband, who organized the local tabletop exercise event at the Clay County Justice Center, said. "We were on the fringe of the affected area, I worked with the All Hazard Incident Management Team."

Officials in Clay County were successful in their endeavors.

"We were able to communicate through Amateur Radio, which can be set up anywhere and be run from a car battery," Husband said.

Clay County Emergency Management Director Bryan Husband
This is the first time a national-level exercise has been designed around a natural disaster and, in terms of the number and variety of the 1,200 Indiana emergency responders from agencies, and the wide array of geographic locations involved around the state.

Officials with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) believe this is possibly Indiana's largest disaster exercise ever.

The exercise simulated a 7.7 magnitude earthquake at the New Madrid Fault, which is in Missouri and surrounding states, followed closely by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone, which runs vertical through Southern Indiana and into adjoining states.

Husband explained the scenario is a possibility since "the New Madrid Fault connects to the Wabash Valley fault which runs up into Sullivan and Vigo counties."

Although the damage and affect of such an event would be widespread, the simulation included counties affected in Indiana, which included Clay, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Greene, Jackson, Knox, Marion, Owen, Parke, Perry, Pike, Posey, Putnam, Spencer Sullivan, Vanderburgh, Vermillion, Vigo and Warrick counties.

There were also some surprising discoveries learned during the exercise.

"For me, it was the fact amateur radio can set up anywhere and talk when no one else can," Husband said. "If this were real, our cell phones and radio systems would not work and AR would be the only long distance communications available."

Clay County has recently organized an amateur radio group, which Husband said performed well during the exercise and will be a great asset to the community.

Husband said another useful tool during the exercise was the Internet phone system, which is set up in the Clay County Courthouse and the Clay County Justice Center.

"It recognizes a phone, any type of phone, when it is hooked to the system," Husband said. "No matter where it is plugged in, it rings when its assigned number is called."

However, not all surprises were pleasant ones.

Having the correct mapping was crucial.

"Emergency response personnel needed the correct mapping to make their way through each county," Husband said, adding it would speed up response time.

Participants in the simulation also had to deal with their resources being stretched to their limits by being involved in the rescue effort for trapped victims, the collapse of buildings and bridges, providing housing for displaced residents and the coordination of animal rescue, civil support, search and rescue, law enforcement, fire and medical/mental health personnel.

Participating agencies included the Indiana Department of Administration (DOA), Indiana Department of Correction (DOC), Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), Indiana Geological Survey (IGS), Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities (GCPD), Indiana National Guard (INNG), Indiana Public Safety Commission (IPSC), Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH), Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), Indiana State Personnel Department (SPD), Indiana State Police (ISP), and Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

"I believe our participation in the drill was a success," Husband said, adding these types of exercises are important for being prepared. "A disaster can happen at anytime."

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