On Saturday, July 28, the Munich Fire and Ambulance Service had a full-scale tornado testing drill. According to Karen Kempert, Cavalier County Emergency 911 Coordinator, quite a few entities helped make the day a successful one.
By Lisa Nowatzki
Participating in the drill were Valley Medical Services with their emergency helicopters, Langdon Ambulance, Munich Ambulance, Munich Fire Department, Cavalier County Sheriff’s Department, and many volunteer victims.
Full-scale exercises like these test a community’s emergency management procedures. According to Kempert, this exercise tested the procedures, policies, and the ability to respond to any disaster.
According to their website, the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) provides a set of guiding principles for exercise programs, as well as a conventional approach to exercise program management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning. The HSEEP exercise and evaluation doctrine is flexible, adaptable, and is for use by stakeholders across the whole community and is applicable for exercises across all mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
Through the use of HSEEP, exercise program managers, like Kempert, can develop, execute, and evaluate exercises that address the priorities established by Kempert and community leaders. Their priorities are based on the National Preparedness Goal, strategy documents, threat and hazard identification/risk assessment processes, capability assessments, and the results from previous exercises and real-world events.
These priorities guide the overall direction of a progressive exercise program, where individual exercises are anchored to a common set of priorities or objectives and build toward an increasing level of complexity over time. Accordingly, these priorities guide the design and development of individual exercises as planners identify exercise objectives and align them to core capabilities for evaluation during the exercise.
Munich Fire and Ambulance decided they wanted to test three things. First, they wanted to test their mass care ability. With one or two ambulances available from the area, Valley Med. helicopters are godsends. Kempert noted that having a three-person casualty could be catastrophic for Munich and the surrounding areas due to a lack of ambulances.
Second, the community wanted to test the public information and warning system. They wanted to make sure all residents would be informed on a timely basis.
And finally, the group tested their hazardous material disaster response. Kempert emphasized that producers regularly use anhydrous ammonia when farming. A spill could be an environmental catastrophe.
Most certainly, these all-inclusive drills and exercises are not cheap. However, Kempert applied and received a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security that helps defer the costs of emergency management drills. The grant is part of the Homeland Security Exercises and Evaluations Program.
Thanks to medical transport providers like Valley Med. Flight, residents and citizens have more chance of survival if something catastrophic happens. Valley Med. Flight transports all patient types from pediatric to geriatric, including high-risk OB.
The flight crews are trained in the most current practices related to caring for patients requiring any medical, surgical, cardiac, neurological, OB/GYN, pediatric, trauma, or burn specialty.
Through the utilization of their fleet of both medical helicopters and airplanes, Valley Med. Flight crews are available to conduct transport missions from the scene of an accident or healthcare facility 24 hours a day. Availability is a crucial survival tool during an emergency or disaster.
Kempert contracted with Heartland Consultants out of Bismarck to help organize and to carry out the drill. The company also provides the entity having the exercise with an overview of the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) which is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Heartland also provides information on how to coordinate staff attendance of programs and the benefits of the ICS implementation.
After the training program, problems and difficult areas are identified. One critical area identified through the exercise was that resources are thin. Kempert said that even though mutual aid agreements are in effect with other townships and counties, qualified people are spread thin.
Communications and planning were also another identified area that needed improving. By completing the exercise, participants learn how to plan for emergencies and how to communicate better by setting up a chain of command and use incident commanders.
Another area that can be easily overlooked was the manpower to disconnect from power lines. One downed power line can cause a great deal of damage if no one can disconnect the line.
Also, money and mutual aid resources are limiting factors in emergency management situations.
Looking ahead to the future, Kempert revealed that the township of Osnabrock has expressed interest in conducting an emergency management drill in their community.
Kempert laid out the path a community must use to conduct an emergency management drill. First, is a roundtable discussion to identify what areas are to be tested. Then problems are identified and fixed before the next tabletop exercise. Problems identified are fixed, again. Then a few more tabletop exercises followed by fixes will eventually lead to a full-scale exercise.
Kempert said, “Munich has a wonderful group that has a great deal of knowledge as a community but, as always, they need more volunteers and EMS personnel.”