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Feds fund hands-on emergency training

October 11, 2011

Local law enforcement, health and human services and other officials review the stats on a mock disaster before a mock shift change last week. Photo by Mike Gervais

A bomb goes off in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power office on Mandich Street in Bishop, destroying most of the building.
Police and fire personnel rush to the scene and begin to extinguish the blaze, evacuate nearby homes and businesses and begin rescue efforts, but the disaster has far reaching consequences for residents and the state at large. So, what happens next?
Public safety personnel from throughout Inyo County, 36 in all, gathered in Bishop Thursday to practice management techniques for just such a disaster.
The Emergency Operations Center training last week centered around the above scenario, which required the establishment of evacuation centers, road closures and detours, and an emergency morgue.
The drill gave staff from local law enforcement, fire departments, Health and Human Services and the coroner’s office hands-on experience with the disaster scenario, allowing them to establish areas of operation, command centers and a chain of command.
The EOC team was responsible for everything from recording the number of dead and injured in the mock incident, to ordering meals for relief crews, to investigating the blast, to notifying the Federal Bureau of Investigation and coordinating with other agencies and answering questions from local and national media.
“The assigned EOC staff members are fully trained and capable of carrying out their responsibilities during activations,” Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Carma Roper said. “The EOC staff … responds to multi-department and county-wide emergencies to support incident response activities.”
Roper went on to say that well-designed and well-executed exercises are one of the most effective means of preparing emergency staff members for actual activation.
Because the EOC staff is a multi-agency effort, the training gives members an opportunity to acquaint themselves with one another and learn who will be playing what role in the event of an emergency.
“We were there to evaluate the plan, and the plan succeeded,” Roper said. “The people succeeded as well. We have real disasters on a regular basis, and it was tremendous that we were commended for how well we worked together.”
During the training, the command team set up a map outlining the disaster area, road closures, command centers and the locations of evacuation shelters and the morgue.
During a mock press conference concerning the imaginary disaster, members of the local media and county staff who were on site to evaluate the EOC training had the opportunity to ask questions of team leaders and public information officers to see how they handled releasing information to the public in the wake of a disaster.
Public information officers revealed during the press conference that a terrorist group had claimed responsibility for the explosion, but refused to comment further, citing an “ongoing investigation.” Officials also answered questions directing survivors to evacuation centers to locate friends or family members who were displaced due to the attack, and addressed concerns about traffic and road detours.
The two-day training exercise was funded through a 2010 Department of Homeland Security Grant.
Roper said County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio “can be credited for his support and commitment in keeping the County of Inyo’s first responders National Incident Management System compliant and prepared to effectively handle emergency situations.”

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