‘Functional’ exercise will bring EM professionals to Abilene
About 80 people expected to attend tornado response exercise
Dickinson County is no stranger to tornadoes, with a devastating storm striking Chapman in 2008 and another traveling west to east across the northern part of the county in May 2016 destroying homes and property.
And those are just the ones in recent memory.
On April 29, local storm spotters watched as six funnel clouds formed south of Abilene. Of those, two actually became tornadoes, causing damage.
But what happens if a populated area like Abilene took a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado that destroyed much of the city? That’s the scenario behind a functional emergency preparedness exercise planned for Monday- Wednesday, June 6-8 in Abilene. Emergency management professionals from all over, possibly even outside the U.S., will come out and “do their jobs as if the disaster actually happened,” said Dickinson County Emergency Management Director Chancy Smith. Named the Windy City tornado (Abilene/Dickinson County), the exercise will include area and state emergency management people, City of Abilene and Dickinson County commissioners, police, sheriff, fire, EMS, Memorial Health System and numerous other departments and/or agencies. Wiland Associates, LLC., a national company that provides incident management capabilities, will also have staff on hand. The exercise, which will cost between $70,000 to $80,000, is being funded with Homeland Security monies from all 12 regions in the state of Kansas under the IMT (Incident Management Team) project. The responders will start the exercise using response trailers that are positioned strategically around the state in order to exercise them and ensure all equipment is operational, Smith explained.
“We’re expecting about 80 people,” Smith said. “We’ll have about 30 or 40 people working out of the basement in the courthouse and probably about the same number at Sterl Hall who will have responded to help.”
Smith said the “responders” will bring their emergency response vehicles to Sterl Hall where they will test them to make sure everything is working correctly.
“During the table top exercise, we sat around and talked about what we’d do. Now they’re going to come in and say, for example, we’ve got this many people trapped in an apartment complex. What resources is it going to take to get them out? Then physically make the calls to get them out,” Smith said. While city and county commissioners need to be present because they are the decision makers. They are never “in the field” doing the work, but they have to make the decisions because they are responsible for paying the bills. “If we need a task force out of Topeka to respond to help us there’s a price tag that comes withthat task force,” Smith explained. “We track everything – time, hours, number of people. If the state declares an emergency the state’s going to pick up the bill, but until that happens, the city and county is responsible,” he added. “You watch every dime you spend through all steps of resources. Whether it’s heavy equipment to move debris, ambulances to move patients to hospitals, making calls to the hospitals to check on rooms to transfer people.
“What do you do with people who are on oxygen? How are they going to live without power? What’s your plan to deal with it?” Smith questioned. “You can’t just call EMS and have them transport them to the hospital. Ambulances are going to be busy.” Smith said this is the first time Dickinson County has ever had one of these types of exercises. Personally, he’s been involved in several during his 17 years as the county’s emergency manager, including one two years ago in Franklin County which used the exact same scenario.