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Flu Outbreak & Explosion - Both Were Just Drills

Advertizer Gleam
01-27-07

By Cindy West

Marshall County Emergency Management Agency, community emergency response teams and Guntersville fire and police departments tested their procedures during a disater drill.

The event started around 8:00 Tuesday at Guntersville High School, where interim EMA director Anita McBurnett coordinated the emergency operations center. The first scenario the various agencies envisioned was a flu pandemic. During such an outbreak, it's important for companies and emergency responders to know how to function if 30 to 40 percent of their workforce is out sick.

"If that many students are out of school sick, it also places a burden on familes," Ms. McBurnett said.

That exercise illuminated a lot of procedures and even some policies that need to be revised, she said. Policies are guidelines from state agencies, such as the Department of Education, about what would trigger closing all the schools, for instance.

 

"Pandemic influenza planning is quite new for everyone. A Lot of questions arose," Ms. Burnett said. "Now the various groups are looking at existing procedures to see what needs to be changes."

The groups will give feedback to state agencies about policy changes. "This is a 2-way conversation," she said.

The second phase of the exercise involved a scenario where an explosion at the Gold Kist plant caused a hazardous chemical spill. the fire department set up its mobile command center across the causeway from the plant on Highway 227. Fire Chief Rick Bearden acted as incident commander, and the emergency operations center was also active for that exercise.

"What was new for us was to be communicating with the emergency operations center," Chief Bearden said. "An EOC is an absolutely criticalfacility. We would have a difficult time managing an emergency without EOC support. That is something we continue to develop, nurture and improve."

'The EOC handles it really well," Ms. McBurnett said. "We did a mock drill with the National Weather Service and utilized the emergency alert system with NOAA weather radios to send out several warnings associated with a hazardous materials release. We used it also with the pandemic flu exercise to see how we can get these warnings out for all of Marshall County."

During an emergency, the NOAA weather radio system can be used to deliver not only weather-related information, but also other information that people need.

"It worked real well," she said. "We know we have another tool in our toolbox if we need it."

The drills allow emergency responders o get to know each other and to work out what procedures need to be followed. If that is done before a disaster occurs, the agencies are able to coordinate better during a real emergency, Ms. McBurnett said.

"That means better respoder safety and utilization of resources," she said.

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