Tornado exercise slated this weekend

Thursday, April 19, 2012
Bourbon County Emergency Manager Keith Jeffers briefs participants on an upcoming mock tornado scenario Wednesday evening. The functional tornado exercise is scheduled to take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday in Bronson and Uniontown.(Jason E. Silvers/Tribune)

Local first responders are scheduled to join their peers from several neighboring counties for a functional tornado exercise Sunday in Uniontown.

Bourbon County Emergency Manager Keith Jeffers briefed 15 local fire officers and other responders who plan to participate about the plan of action for the mock scenario Wednesday evening in his office. Jeffers said the goal of the tornado exercise is to practice response times and to build communication and teamwork.

"The purpose is when we have a real disaster, we want to practice our response to make it quicker," he said. "It also builds networking, so when we get on the scene of a disaster, you're not meeting your counterparts for the first time."

The simulation will involve a tornado touching down in the Bronson area and going through rural portions of the county before ending up in Uniontown. The twister will start as a category EF-1 and develop into an EF-3 with very high wind speeds. Cities that will have simulated damages are Bronson and Uniontown, with areas in between, Jeffers said.

It is expected that search and rescue teams comprised of emergency responders from several county and city agencies will assist with those operations following destruction from the tornado.

"We will run it as if it's a real thing you will have to think about," Jeffers told firefighters and others who attended Wednesday's meeting. "We want to save lives. That's the whole purpose."

Functions that will be tested include notification of damages and calling out to neighboring county 911/dispatch centers for mutual aid. Jeffers said command structures, techniques and revised equipment capabilities based on lessons learned from last year's tornado in Joplin, Mo., will be utilized.

"Disaster training builds on a previous disaster," he said. "We want to tighten up some of the timing."

Jeffers said about 30-40 local first responders representing city and rural fire, Fort Scott Police Department, Bourbon County Sheriff's Office and Bourbon County Emergency Management helped following the devastating May 22, 2011, twister in Joplin, Mo.

Jeffers said a new staging system will be tested during the exercise. Each team will have a pager that flashes and vibrates that will be used for communication and notification during the simulated search and rescue operation.

"It all came about from the Joplin tornado," he said. "Radios were bogged down, cell phones were bogged down or not usable. We're trying to use another communication form in addition to what we normally ... use."

Jeffers added the exercise should give local responders a baseline for areas that need improvement.

Staging areas for Sunday's exercise, expected to start at 1 p.m. Sunday, will be the Uniontown High School football stadium and parking lot and Bronson City Hall. Uniontown will have a location for an incident command post for check-in and staging of response teams.

Bronson will have a location for an incident command post for search and rescue operations in the immediate area. Staging will take place at a nearby baseball field.

Local emergency responders will call for mutual aid from neighboring counties to assist during the exercise. Agencies expected to participate include local city police and fire departments, Bourbon County rural fire departments, Bourbon County Sheriff's Office, Mercy Health System, Bourbon County Public Health, Bourbon County CERT, as well as emergency teams from Allen, Linn, Neosho, Crawford and Cherokee counties in Kansas, and Vernon County in Missouri.

Jeffers said he expects one or more vehicles from the other counties to respond for check in, staging and mission assignment, followed by demobilization. Mutual aid counties are expected to bring lists of resources that would actually be used in the event of a real disaster.

The Bourbon County Mobile Command Vehicle will serve as the Mobile Emergency Operations Center for on-scene check in.

The entire drill is expected to last about four to five hours. Organizers will stage response teams, assign missions and teams will go to an incident command post near the simulated damaged areas.

In the event of an actual weather emergency this weekend, the exercise will be rescheduled.