Earthquake drill puts emergency responders to the test

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Fox Meadow Elementary School in Jonesboro looked like a war zone Monday morning. Emergency responders, police, firefighters and even the National Guard were on hand working to get injured people the help they needed and bring chaos to order; only there was no true disaster.

Around 15 state agencies put their skills to the test in a mock earthquake disaster drill. Director of the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management, David Moore, says this is the largest disaster drill FEMA has ever attempted. "National Level Exercise 2011, in itself, is the biggest drill nationwide. But going beyond that, Arkansas is the biggest player within NLE 11 and Craighead County, I'm proud to say, is the biggest player in Arkansas. So, we are all trying to step up and do our best to show that we're prepared."

They simulated a building collapse at the elementary school with around eighty injured and seven fatalities. Moore says anyone that would normally be involved in such a catastrophic event is participating in the drill. "We have cities involved. We have the county, state and federal. We have hospitals, health department. The list is truly unbelievable. Everything from radio operators to volunteer firemen. We have all these groups coming together and working together within their areas. And so, it helps build that relationship within them to make these things happen. Hopefully, we'll never have to use them. But if we do, we know we can do it."

J3 Director of Military Operations for the Arkansas National Guard, Colonel Greg Bacon, says what they're all learning from this weeks drill will be crucial in helping them all do their jobs better, "Some of the firemen are not familiar with our aircraft, so today they're becoming more familiar with the aircraft, how to load those patients onto the aircraft so in a disaster scenario they'll have that training. And by that more quickly and efficiently, we help save lives."

Superintendent of Nettleton Schools, James Dunivan, says he is thrilled his faculty and students were able to participate in the exercise, "This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved. With all the various agencies here from all over Craighed County and from all over the country, coming together, and working together, learning how to communicate together. It's also good for the adults to practice our skills for taking care of the kids.  It's also good for our kids to see that when we practice a drill, we mean business."

Moore says drills like this are critical for them to discover what things are working and what isn't. "This is very important on multiple aspects. First, you build a plan. Then you exercise it and see things that are open for improvement." "I'm tickled to death. Everyone is doing what their supposed to. Yes, in any event you're going to run into some problems. But that's what we're looking for. If we can fix those problems now then whenever we have to do it for real, you know those problems are taken care of. And that's what we're really looking for in these exercises, is to learn from them."

The drill will continue with a number of other events to occur at different locations through Friday. Day two will be a hazardous material spill at ASU, and day three will be an airlift in Monette where supplies will be dropped off due to a bridge collapse.

For information about this event or how to be prepared, click onto their website.

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