If you walked into the city of Abilene’s Emergency Operations Center last week, you may have thought a real disaster was in progress.
That is until you read the signs posted at the EOC’s entrance, stating this is an exercise. The intent was to simulate a major emergency, testing plans and procedures used during actual emergencies and disasters.
Periodically, state officials review Emergency Management programs for their effectiveness. The Texas Engineering Extension Service, on behalf of the State of Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management, evaluated the city of Abilene/Taylor County’s ability to respond to a disaster scenario. TEEX Lead Evaluator Tom Shehan said these simulations are the best way to ensure all of the agencies involved can coordinate their efforts and provide a timely, appropriate response to any type of crisis. The emphasis of the regional exercise was to gauge the communications interoperability of the West Central Texas Council of Government’s 19-county region.
The exercise specifics were unknown to all but a handful of key staff. The simulated scenario played out at a rural high school where a terrorist hostage situation unfolded. It involved explosions from within the school that resulted in loss of life and injuries. A number of other obstacles developed during the day-and-a-half-long drill to further test our response capabilities.
Thanks to the CodeRED® telephone emergency notification system, the city was able to utilize the latest technology in alerting affected residents to evacuate. Other exercise components involved establishing an Incident Command Post near the incident site and setting up a triage station to treat the wounded.
For communications, the state recognized the city of Abilene and Taylor County as operable in an emergency situation and interoperable with other cities and counties. By being interoperable, the participating cities and counties were able to talk with each other on the same emergency communication channel.
A major component of achieving that operability was the deployment of two newly acquired mobile communications trailers, capable of linking all participating radios to the same frequency. The new public safety 800 MHZ radio system, with its coverage capabilities and interoperability functionalities, was instrumental in helping the city achieve Level 4 interoperability in accordance with the State Interoperability Plan.
More than 200 participants were involved in the regional exercise, including Hendrick Medical Center’s Medical Emergency Response Group, Abilene Regional Medical Center, Big Country Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Nolan County Emergency Operations Center and two state response initiatives. These response initiatives are the Disaster District Committee, a newly renovated emergency facility to support the EOC for state coordination and resource support, and the Multi-Agency Command system, a new concept led by the WTCOG to provide resource support for disasters in the region.
It is thanks to the support of city and county leaders as well as the dedication and passion of emergency services staff and first responders that the West Central Texas Region received high marks. As Gary Weeks, a representative from the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management put it, “The City of Abilene and Taylor County have proved they are capable of handling any disaster that may come their way.”
For us at Emergency Management, we continue to train with exercises like this one so we’re prepared to do whatever we can to keep the community safe in the face of a disaster.