Mock disaster drill a success

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A couple of weeks ago, about 60 leaders from across the county received an invitation to a mock emergency meeting.

Under the premise that a major illness had hit the county, those same leaders came together Thursday at a mock Emergency Operations Center to respond to the pretend crisis.

The leaders had a list of three critical questions, and participants had to respond as if the emergency were taking place in real time. They had only 45 minutes to evaluate and respond to the questions and then were brought back together for a group discussion.

Routt County Emergency Services Manager Chuck Vale said that's the whole idea of having an emergency operations center. "It's to bring in the right people to make the right decisions."

The mock exercise, just one step to help plan for a large-scale disaster, was even more timely after national security was heightened early this week.

The exercise involved about 60 people from across the county, including Routt County and Steamboat Springs governmental officials, public health officials and representatives from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., Yampa Valley Medical Center and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

At the operations center, officials could work together to listen to issues and make decisions in a coordinated effort, Vale said.

"We felt that it was time to bring all of the players together," Vale said.

Members of the Emergency Medical Services advisory council organized the exercise.

The exercise was designed to test a recently updated countywide Emergency Operations Plan, as well as parts of the Mass Casualty Plan and public health plans that would go into effect if a large-scale emergency were to occur.

The result, Vale said, was exceptional. The exercise fostered interaction and discussion among participants.

It helped them learn that decisions affecting operations in multiple areas of the county need to be made as part of a coordinated effort that involves various officials.

From the exercise, participants concluded they would need more in-depth scientific medical information to make the sorts of decisions they were asked to make.

Another conclusion was that the scenario discussed would have an enormous impact on the community, Vale said.

Mock exercises have been done in the past to help officials learn how to handle disasters such as bus crashes, airplane wrecks or a boiler explosion at a school. Thursday's exercise marked the first time that leaders considered a problem that potentially could be linked to an act of terrorism.

The group made a commitment to meet again in the spring and continue to improve relationships and planning through similar exercises.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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