In the event of an emergency . . .
OKOLONA – Preparing for any emergency is never an easy task and trying to prepare for an unexpected disaster pushes the envelope even further.
But over 40 representatives of local and area entities gathered Feb. 4 to try to do just that.
The Chickasaw County Emergency Management office organized a tabletop exercise, facilitated by Todd DeMuth of the MEMA Office of Preparedness, to see how various agencies would handle an immediate and unexpected disaster.
The exercise was based on a trail derailment in North Okolona involving impact and subsequent explosion with components of fire and unknown cargo spills. Time of day, during school and business hours, and weather and wind conditions were also factored in.
Attendees included representatives of municipal and county government, fire, emergency personnel, school administration, health officials and law enforcement as well as area and state agencies in a position to offer assistance.
“The fact that you’re all in the room lets me know the level of cooperation is second to none,” DeMuth said.
DeMuth guided the group through over two hours of possible scenarios from immediate response to setting up an incident command site and reaching out for assistance from other areas. Each group represented was tasked with not only determining their best individual response but also how to access other groups to share information and resources for a greater overall effect.
“I’m not expecting you to come up with answers today,” DeMuth said. “I just want you to think about it. This exercise makes you think ‘what if?'”
Woodland Mayor Patti Watkins said she found the exercise valuable and although the village does not have a railway, the components could be applied to other disaster situations.
“It’s all about networking and having resources in place,” Watkins said. “In a disaster of any magnitude, we’ll be working with people all around the area and the state. It’s knowing who to call and contact. We can all learn something.”
Okolona School Superintendent Dexter Green said the proximity of the mock-disaster to the local schools offered food for thought.
“The meeting provoked conversations as to how we will ensure the safety of all students and how we will properly manage a crisis situation at the school level,” Green said.
And that was the response the exercise was designed to elicit.
“This type of exercise will benefit our day-to-day operations in emergency response,” said EMA Director Linda Griffin. “Chickasaw County residents should be very proud of our schools, public officials, emergency response agencies and volunteer groups for taking a proactive approach to potential disaster situations. Our county is not immune to trail derailments or other catastrophic events and the fact is everyone pulls together helps to save lives and property.”
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