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Seminar all about assessing risk

2/19/2008 12:00 AM

HERNANDO - Weeks before the tornado touched down in neighboring Southaven, Horn Lake Mayor Nat Baker, Alderman Tom Polzin and other key city personnel had determined they and others needed to be prepared as best as possible in an emergency.

Last week they put that realization into action with a risk and assessment seminar conducted Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the DeSoto County Emergency Management Agency facility on Old U.S. 51, Hernando.

The session, conducted by Russ Napier and Bill Graner with the Texas Engineering Extension Service, a branch of the Texas A&M University System, highlighted the many facets that go into identifying and developing a course of action in an emergency, be it natural or man-made.

"We've been learning how to evaluate a threat assessment, whether there's a present danger and how to respond," Baker said about the seminar that was not all lecture. Those in attendance went over scenarios should they ever have to deal with a disaster.

"We're discovering who, on different levels, you would call on," Baker said. "It's knowing who in the city, county, schools and private enterprise are needed."

It's why disparate groups seemingly with little or nothing in common are interconnected, Horn Lake fire battalion chief Mike Casey said. The people he was referring to included school principals, a hospital representative, and those from the private sector, as well as several other government or quasi-government agencies.

"The class is designed to be multi-disciplined," Russ Napier said.

One of the exercises divided attendees into groups, and each group had to brainstorm and develop a plan of action. When called upon, they presented their recommendations and the deliberations that went into their decisions.

It underscored that while they might appear random and spur of the moment, decisions on the part of those in charge have rhyme and reason.

It was why representatives from the school system, code and law enforcement and firefighting/EMT, as well as private sector personnel believed the seminar necessary.

"It's an eye-opener," Joey Cox said.

Cox is an excavator with Tri-Firma, a contracting firm that does work for Horn Lake.

Cox added that what he learned the past several days was that while people should be as prepared as possible, there were many details that might go overlooked because of a lack of knowledge and communication.

His viewpoint was echoed by Mark Kaldahl, a safety officer at Baptist Memorial Hospital - DeSoto.

"I'm here to learn how we at the hospital can participate in these events with the community," he said, adding that he has been attending similar workshops with area counties and communities in both Mississippi and Tennessee.

The recurrent theme coming out of this week's seminar was that key to successfully addressing a disaster is coordination of communication and course of action.

Graner, the other seminar instructor, focused on the aftermath. He gave the example of what would happen if a "dirty" bomb was detonated in New York City.

"The big thing is not the explosion, it's the panic factor and the economic factor," Graner said.

According to Graner, in a worst case scenario, a dirty bomb detonated under the "right" condition in Manhattan could make the city uninhabitable because of the potential for radiation permeating buildings, sidewalks, the underground system, including the water supply. Since so much of New York City is based on commerce, particularly banking and finance and stock and commodity trading, the devastation would be far-reaching, according to Graner.

Napier brought it closer to home, explaining the effect on sheep in Scotland after the meltdown of the Soviet Union's nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in April 1986.

The contaminants from Chernobyl went into the atmosphere, where winds carried it around the globe. As the radioactive contaminants descended, it settled into the wool. Athough by the time it had become airborne and reduced to minute particles as it descended, the radiation was of such minimal dosage as to not be harmful to the sheep healthwise. However, the animals had to be shorn and the wool destroyed, wiping out that year's wool crop and leading to financial hardship for many and ruin for some.

As with any seminar that is compressed into a tight timeframe, there is so much information presented that it may seem overwhelming at times, and some of it may be forgotten. However, with the inclusion of participants from different fields of expertise, it is believed that crucial information one person might overlook, another will be able to provide.

No person or community can always be 100 percent prepared, but the concensus among those who participated is that the City of Horn Lake is further along the process now than it was as little as several weeks ago.

Contact Information

Kathy Fraser

Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

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