If you were near Meigs High School and the Meigs Fairgrounds last Saturday (May 13th) you saw evidence of exercising. No, not aerobics, weight-lifting or calisthenics, but a full-scale Haz-Mat (Hazardous Material) exercise. A group of county entities consisting of the Ohio EMA (OEMA), Meigs County LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee), EMA (Emergency Management Agency), EMS (Emergency Medical Services), Pomeroy Fire, Meigs Sheriff’s office, Ohio Highway Patrol, Jackson County HAZ-MAT Team, Meigs County Health Department (MCHD), Meigs Medical Reserve Corps (MMRC), Athens American Red Cross (ARC), Meigs 9-1-1, Holzer Emergency Room, AEP, and MedFlight put on quite a show.
All of the above entities and services have to have a plan for responding to all-hazards emergency situations. And they have to annually test these plans with an exercise. As the ERC (Emergency Response Coordinator for MCHD and the LEPC, I have the onerous task of planning an exercise for the county. The exercise has to test the plans the entities have for county emergencies.
What emergencies? Meigs County frequently has local flooding emergencies, Ohio River flooding emergencies, illnesses (food born and biologic like the flu), weather (tornados, severe storms) and others. We work through all these over the course of the year. Some emergencies, though, are less frequent. Those emergency plans we exercise to see is they work; and to see if they improvement.
For the past 5 years, the OHIO EMA has asked that we focus on Haz-Mat. This year’s target was Chlorine gas. We get to design the emergency through planning meetings, phone calls and sweat.
We then find a suitable area to respond to “our” emergency and figure our resources necessary: internet (?), buildings (?), calendar date (?), scenario and timeline.
Then we contact the OEMA and see what areas (state mandated) we need to grade for our exercise. There are 12 areas ranging from setting up an EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to Shelter Management to Volunteer Management to proper use of Incident Command. To finish the five-year cycle Meigs County LEPC had to be successful in Shelter Management and Volunteer Management. (WE WERE!)
You’re probably asking, “Why did you waste a bee-you-tee-full for this?”
There are several reasons:
* We need to see if our plans work.
* We need to see if we can improve our plans.
* And, for the elephant in the room, emergency response funding is tied to it
Who does the evaluation of the exercise? We used people experienced in response. Our evaluators came from Gallia and Jackson County EMA, Jackson MRC, Jackson PH and Southeast Ohio Regional Public Health. All evaluators had many years of experience in planning and evaluation and they followed the OEMA evaluation process.
We had a lot of hoops to hula but we did and we were able to secure our future hazards planning and performance efforts from the successful exercise (push-ups would have been easier).
Now before I end this article, I want to thank two groups who made this exercise special: Eastern and Meigs High School students. We had about 20 students who volunteered (or were forced to volunteer by their principle) to play as participants and victims in the drill. They got to see first-hand how emergency response should be carried out (and 3 of them were “carried” out as victims). Our thanks to them and their schools for their participation!
Now, what’s on tap for next year? Stay tuned!
Frank Gorscak, MCHD ERC, PIO, works for the Meigs County Health Department.