Emergency response plans examined
Tabletop exercise gives important training opportunity
GREENCASTLE -- The Putnam County Emergency Operations Center was recently the site of a tabletop exercise featuring tornado disasters in the area.
Participating personnel included law enforcement, health and hospital, transportation, 911, fire, planning, volunteer coordinators and others.
The idea behind the tabletop exercise is to use a hypothetical situation and look at the probable response to it.
These are done in informal, stress-free environments to elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on an existing operational plan.
"It helps to identify where the plans need to be refined. We don't use equipment, resources are not deployed and time pressures not introduced. It's the simplest type of exercise to conduct as far as planning, preparation and coordination of a disaster," explained Putnam County Emergency Director Kim Hyten.
On this particular day, a tornado disaster was chosen as the most likely scenario to occur in this county.
Event facilitator David Perkins with Mission Ready Consulting tossed out statistics on this area of the state including the fact that Putnam County has had 10 tornados in 10 years.
Surrounding counties like Hendricks have seen 25 twisters; Montgomery, 17; and Morgan, 18. Owen ties with Putnam for the same number, while Clay has had seven and Parke, eight, in the same time frame.
The exercise included four units. The first gives a scenario, including a tornado watch turning into a warning. It then turns into a verified sighting near Mansfield.
According to the scenario, dispatch receives reports of trees down and scattered power outages in and around Reelsville and Manhattan with debris blocking lanes of state highways and county roads.
Damages build as a tornado hits the ground near Clinton Falls, eventually hitting the Glenn Flint Lake area.
A deputy gives a preliminary assessment of 37 injured, nine dead and several people trapped at Glen Flint.
This leads into discussion of how to communicate with a tower out at Putnamville, how to move equipment into the area when there is only one road and it is blocked with trees and debris.
In the meantime, twisters continue to touch down around the county, with another hit taking place in Limedale, causing a hazardous situation.
Law enforcement is stretched between helping firemen and EMTs who are usually first responders, securing damaged areas, keeping parents calm at schools where children have been held and providing security for medical facilities who are inundated with casualties walking in, being driven in and transported by emergency personnel.
"This type of exercise shows us how limited our resources really are," Hyten told the group.
Federal and state help can take days. In this particular event, Terre Haute was hit earlier and Danville was in the path of more tornadic weather.
"You could easily be on your own for 72 hours," said Perkins.
With these thoughts in mind, the group laid out priorities. Number one being life safety issues. Trees stop fire trucks and ambulances, but responders still go in on foot to begin triage and assessment.
They are hindered by radio contact issues and not having enough emergency help yet. They discover they may need to fall back to high band radios to have immediate communications.
The importance of Ham operators is noted. How to use the COAD (Communities Active in Disasters) as a resource is discussed as well as looking at the State Department of Natural Resources and other groups.
For volunteers such as firemen and EMTs, their first priority is taking care of their family and then getting to the scene.
How to procure lights at the scene, finding fuel for emergency vehicles and determining how to communicate are all issues that were looked at during the exercise.
"Basically, it is all about making decisions and setting priorities," explained Perkins.
Things like asking the local hospitals to provide their own security during a disaster makes a large difference in having enough manpower on the scene.
At the end of the meeting, evaluation forms were given to the participants. The forms asked them to list what they see as the top three issues and identifying corrective steps to address the issues identified and giving it a value of high, medium or low. Participants were also asked to describe the corrective steps that each agency should take and assign responsibility for each action item as well as a list of policies, plans and procedures that need to be reviewed, revised or developed.
Hyten and others plan to look over the county's emergency disaster plan to make sure objectives and needs are met. A new plan incorporating all the state and federal ESFs will be developed in about 60 days.
"Being prepared is the best thing we can do and we can only do that if we have everyone's cooperation from the utility companies to the volunteer efforts," said Hyten.