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Richmond, TX – Just a few days ago, the medical facilities in Fort Bend County were being overwhelmed by many citizens feeling the effects of botulism, while at about the same time two explosions occurred in a local shopping district… Fortunately, these events were not real, but were presented as challenges to a group of County emergency planners participating in an emergency management exercise.

A group of nearly 120 local leaders – made up of government officials, police, fire, medical, transportation, industry and volunteer agency representatives – participated in a tabletop exercise on November 8, 2005. The event was held at the Missouri City Community Center, and the efforts of the attendees drew praise from the facilitators of the exercise.

While the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management sponsored the training, the development of the exercise scenario and the facilitation of the day-long event were handled by the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC), a division of the Texas Engineering Extension Service. “The attendance was fantastic,” said Karen Wilcox, Exercise Program Coordinator from NERRTC. “This was one of the largest Regional Coordination Exercises ever held in the State of Texas, and all the participants are to be commended. Though representing many different agencies, the participants worked as a team to successfully overcome the disaster scenarios presented to them.”

The participants were split into six different working groups, where each group was presented with initial information indicating that law enforcement officers in the region had located maps and building plans of various facilities during a raid of an extremist group’s headquarters. Each group then learned that the Department of Homeland Security had upgraded the threat condition to Level Orange. The information obtained led each group to conclude that a credible terrorist threat existed in Fort Bend County.

Discussion in each break-out group revolved around the challenges of mobilizing resources, personnel, as well as coordinating the flow of information. What needs to be done? What is known? What else needs to be known? Who might have additional information that is needed? What resources are required? The exercise continued in a similar fashion throughout the day as additional information, or “injects,” were provided to each group.

Dallis Warren, Assistant Police Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Richmond remarked that “the driving purpose of the day was to figure out how to gain control of the incidents presented; figure out who needs to know what so response can be coordinated County-wide; determine what resources are needed and how quickly; and, when necessary, learn how to request assistance from higher levels of government.”

Facilitators from NERRTC complimented the emergency management plans and the mutual aid agreements already in place. At the end of the day, Wilcox urged the represented agencies to make “quick fixes” as a result of lessons learned during the exercise.

Jeff Braun, the County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, was very pleased with the turn-out and the positive attitude shown by all. An important part of the exercise was the ability for many individuals to network with counterparts from other agencies that will be involved in response and recovery activities. “The County’s safety is clearly improved by purchases of digital radios, mobile incident command posts, and other response equipment,” noted Braun, “but, more importantly, the County’s protection and security flows from building relationships between our various entities. Relationships built today at the exercise will make for a more effective disaster response in the future.”

Tom Felts, program manager for exercises and simulations for NERRTC indicated that he was extremely impressed by the “cooperative spirit” demonstrated during the day’s events. “As a result of this exercise,” commented Felts, “Fort Bend County has strengthened working relationships and is better prepared to operate on its own during a disaster before other state or federal support arrives.”

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