EMA training focuses on mass casualty incidents
by Gary Hanner
PELL CITY — St. Clair County and surrounding areas have had their share of unexpected emergencies in recent years.

The Avondale Mills fire in Pell City; a train wreck in Lincoln that caused the evacuation of residents in Riverside; the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011; a recent train derailment in Talladega.

On Thursday at the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency in Pell City, training was conducted by the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Md., at the National Fire Academy through a webcast simulcast.

Agencies on hand for the 4 hour exercise included the St. Clair County EMA, Springville Fire Department, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, St. Clair County American Red Cross, St. Clair County Coroner’s Office, St. Clair County Department of Human Resources, and the St. Clair County Department of Public Health.

Not only were local agencies and officials participating in the webcast exercise, so were responders from Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri, Texas and Indiana.

Springville Fire Chief Richard Harvey said the entire exercise focused on mass casualty incidences.

The hypothetical emergency situation involved a school bus wreck on Interstate 59 near Springville, which was carrying Moody Jr. High School students returning from a field trip to a museum.

“We actually had this happen about four or five years ago,” Harvey said. “A school bus carrying students from Mortimer Jordan did have a wreck near Springville on the interstate. We were able to draw upon some of our experiences from the past.

“We wanted to get organizations within our communities to think about how they would respond to it. These incidences make you think about things based on the scenario. We are looking at how we can better utilize other assets that are available. It just keeps the wheels turning and makes you think about things like where do I need to go and what do I need to do.”

St. Clair County EMA executive director Ellen Tanner said anytime you bring all of the different responders together and the different entities, you are furthering and enhancing their capabilities and response.

“It just opens our eyes to things we normally don’t think about,” Tanner said. “Day-to-day smaller emergencies we can deal with. It’s these bigger ones that pull you up into another level, like the Avondale Mills fire, the Lincoln train wreck, the April 27, 2011, storms.”

Tanner said Thursday’s scenario, the school bus wreck, is a good example of emergency situations that do occur.

“Anytime you involve schoolchildren you really have to be on your toes,” Tanner said. “You have to make sure you’re doing things right because parents expect it.”

St. Clair County EMA planner Bryan Schaefers said it is good to have someone else look from the outside and develop a scenario the St. Clair County EMA did not come up with.

“When you develop your own scenarios, a lot of times you get complacent,” Schaefers said. “Having an exercise built outside the county, and getting someone else to put it all together, challenges us a lot more to look at what we can really do. It helps us out a lot to make our responders better and our emergency operations center better.”

Peggy Mann is community chapter director of the American Red Cross for St. Clair and Talladega counties.

“It is very important to get to know folks before an event happens and foster those partnerships and relationships so when an event does happen, you know them one-on-one and face-to-face,” Mann said. “You know what’s expected of you and everyone knows what resources they can provide at the time. That way, expectations can be met.”

St. Clair County Sheriff’s Lt. Freddie Turrentine said the Sheriff’s Department assisted with the exercise.

“I think it is so important for us to come to these exercises,” Turrentine said. “We can communicate now and learn now so when something really does happen, we will be ready to protect the citizens of St. Clair County. It betters the Sheriff’s Department, police departments, fire departments, etc. The one big problem we have had in the past is communication. The main thing is how can we better communicate, and how can we make it better for everyone when something like this really does happen.”

Turrentine thanked the local EMA and other agencies for participating in the exercise.

“Ellen (Tanner), Brian (Schaefers) and Richard (Harvey) worked very hard to put all of this together,” he said. “It was just 4 hours, and it was very helpful for law enforcement, fire departments, DHR and public health so we can all be on the same page. We have to learn to work together instead of going two different ways. It just makes it better for the citizens of St. Clair County.”

Contact Gary Hanner at ghanner@thestclairtimes.com

© 2013