EMA holds mock drill

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 9, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Disaster preparedness takes time, coordination, financing and a scenario.

Last week the scenario was the worst: Selma High hosting Southside High on a football Friday night, under the lights at Memorial Stadium before a packed house. There was a bomb detected underneath the stands, and the worst thing imaginable happened.

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Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Brett Howard, director of the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency, got to see just how their plan to handle such an unspeakable occurrence would play out – using software developed for training on computers.

“This way you won’t have fire trucks screaming all over town,” Howard said. “That could set off a disaster.”

Without creating a spectacle, Howard said each entity involved could evaluate their readiness to respond to disaster, whether they’re natural or otherwise. The scenario centered on the otherwise, there were 30 fatalities and 120 casualties, Howard said.

“It worked very well,” Howard said. “We know where our gaps are.”

The Dallas County EMA has been doing at least one full scale exercise a year for the past few years. But this year, through a grant from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Howard used the Emergency Response Tracking Systems, an Auburn consulting firm, and their ACATS Software.

Howard said identifying where the gaps in service were, gives each entity time to work on developing even more comprehensive plans.

“The hospital was full,” Howard said. “They couldn’t take any more trauma patients. This let us know we might be going all the way to Birmingham should we have this many casualties from a disaster.”

The computer simulation showed the coordination between a number of agencies, including the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, Selma Police Department, Selma Fire Department, Selma Parks and Recreation, FBI, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Care and Emergystat ambulance services, the Alabama EMA, Department of Homeland Security, Alabama Department of Public Health, Dallas County Health Department and Vaughan Regional Medical Center.

“We learned everybody does work well together. We need to improve on our communications, or how we communicate,” Howard said. “More planning is needed. There were some things we didn’t have plans for. But this is why we do the exercises, so we’ll know what to do.”