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ST. MARYS — Local school and county officials gathered at Memorial High School in St. Marys Friday morning to practice their responses in the event of an emergency.
The Auglaize County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) held a tabletop exercise for first responders and school officials centered around a scenario of a vehicle crash into a substation along U.S. 33, near the high school. Auglaize County EMA Director Troy Anderson ran the various officials through a set of scenarios in real time and assessed their responses.
“The main benefit is it’s getting all the powers to be — the schools, the fire department, EMS, law enforcement and the private sector — we are bringing all of them on board,” Anderson told The Evening Leader. “Everybody has a face and a name and they know they can work with them in the event of a disaster. We are actually using real-time scenarios to make this thing more realistic and seeing what can be done, how we are going to handle it and work with emergency operations plans.”
Evacuations, student evacuations, facility evacuations, traumas and public utility showdowns were among the scenarios the exercise addressed. Being prepared for anything, Anderson noted, is critical in the event of an emergency.
“It’s required by the state that we do one every year,” Anderson said, noting the exercise included representatives from local factories and the hospital.
“I think it’s important because when we normally have an incident, our first responders sometimes get tunnel vision because they are dealing with the incident and they may not be thinking about the private sector. By bringing them in, they get to see how the first responders are working the incident and at the same time we want the first responders to know they will have questions, too.”
The participants broke up into several groups, including one with first responders and one with school officials. Each was tasked with developing a plan to respond to questions ranging from how to assess the injuries to how to get buses to the school to evacuate students.
Another aspect of the exercise included getting information out to the media. Anderson said each group appointed public information officers that were in charge of getting out accurate information to the public.
“We want the media involved from the simply fact that there will be briefings,” Anderson said. “We know residents are going to be concerned with what is going on. Anytime we are dealing with the schools, the parents are going to be worried about their kids, so by getting the media notified right away, we can start quieting the rumor mill.”
The rumor mill often hinders emergency responders from the stand point that concerned citizens can rush a scene and cause a disturbance. By keeping the media informed, and taking to social media outlets, Anderson said the public can obtain accurate information as the emergency unfolds.
“The other thing we are teaching the first responders is that we will be doing news briefings,” Anderson said. “As more information comes in, we will do joint sessions and get it out to the media. (Social media) seems to be working well because a lot of people are on the Internet and they are monitoring it daily and by the minutes. So as fast as you can type, it’s getting out there instead of getting the rumors. All they have to do is grab that piece of information from the media and forward it on.”
At one point in the exercise, school officials were devising a plan to route buses to the school via an alternate route because Ohio 66 was backed up with traffic. Superintendent Jerry Skiver said the exercise helped officials assess their response time and actions.
“If the actual event were to occur, then by going through these trials, we can see where our pitfalls are,” Skiver said. “As a result of doing that, if this were to happen, people can be safe and we could also address if anyone would be injured and have the appropriate personnel to address it.”
Skiver said having all the agencies come together under one roof is beneficial for all parties.
“That way we know if fire has one role, safety has another role and the school has a role,” Skiver said. “We are primarily going to be responsible for the students until those individuals can come to our aid.”
Preparing for any possible roadblocks, like the rerouting of buses, also is important Skiver noted.
“You never know what hurdles you are going to have,” Skiver said. “This is a scenario, however, in real life, it may not be like this at all.”
Anderson said the exercise went well and showed some areas he planned to address in a post-exercise report.
“For the most part I think it went really well,” Anderson said. “We did find some gaps in our plans between the different agencies and the private and public side that we will address in an action report. We have to write how to correct them and we will then implement them into next year’s exercise. It’s a good way to find little glitches and we can say we are working on making the plans better. We don’t just respond to emergencies, we also plan for them.”