Employees of a department that requests aid must be ready and able to manage up to 10 times the number of people and equipment they normally oversee.
Attendees responded to the tornado scenario using one of the Mutual Aid Positioning and Deployment Plans that the Village of Wauconda and its neighbors have refined for the past year and a half. The checklist was developed to handle a large deployment with minimal government employees by incorporating Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers. CERT is a concept that originated in Los Angeles decades ago in which volunteers undergo extensive training to provide assistance to response personnel.
As part of the simulation, a local municipality requested participants' assistance in response to a severe storm/tornado touchdown. Attendees, who'd been asked to bring vehicles and equipment to the training that would be needed in such an event, reported to a staging area ready to remove debris and support police and fire agencies as needed.
They were greeted as if first reporting for duty to the requesting municipality. Wauconda CERT volunteers directed arriving crews to a staging area to check in. During this process, a staging officer reviewed arriving resources, assigned identification cards, and requested background information from arriving personnel regarding their credentials. The staging officer then identified task force leaders, assembled task force groups, and assigned and distributed radios and map books to team leaders.
Task forces were directed to specific addresses or intersections and were tracked along the way by the deployment officer. When teams reported reaching their assigned locations, they were asked to wait for a short time and then redeployed to another location. Response crews used maps provided by the village to navigate unfamiliar local streets. They also used radios that were borrowed from the Lake County Emergency Management Agency's stockpile.
Because of quickly changing technology and widely different available communication systems, most public works agencies aren't well prepared to converse with other agencies in disaster conditions. The exercise helped teams familiarize themselves with the radios and gain experience in working with team members from other agencies.
At the conclusion of the exercise, observers and participants critiqued the event and suggested ways to improve. The importance of good documentation was highlighted. Tracking radio frequencies, specific radio call numbers, and cell phone numbers is vital in the dangerous and fluid environment immediately after a tornado touchdown. Keeping lines of communication open is key to rapidly dispatching resources to areas where they're needed the most. Tracking personnel time and equipment hours is also important in case reimbursement becomes available.
Participants learned about the state's mutual aid network, as well as what resources the county's emergency management office provides and how to access them, including how to request the bank of radios used in the exercise.
Several attendees left determined to build their own “deployment kit,” which would include road signage, personnel sign-in forms, ID badges, and office supplies. Others planned to investigate volunteer groups and find out how to coordinate with them. Planning is already underway for another drill involving even more departments.
— Geary (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director and Fessler (email@example.com) is assistant to the director with the Village of Wauconda Public Works Department in Illinois. Call them at 847-526-9610.