One of the most important aspects of making sure that a state is ready for an emergency is testing its emergency preparedness plan. While the establishment of such a plan can include hundreds of hours of research, investigation, and planning, it all comes together during the testing phase.
Recently the Vermont State Emergency Operations Center was tasked with testing its response capabilities for a frightening scenario: the explosion of a train carrying toxic chemicals, among other scenarios.
The preparations may seem to envision a farfetched scenario, but according to Joe Flynn, the Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security with the Vermont Department of Public Safety, the drills are necessary. He cites the fact that Vermont thought it was safe from having to deal with tropical storms and hurricanes until Tropical Storm Irene walloped the region. The powerful storm wreaked havoc on Vermont and “wiped out” 34 bridges in the state.
In the most recent set of drills 1600 emergency response professionals from around the state came together to prepare for such potentialities as a major virus outbreak and a contamination of the state’s water supply.
The intention of the drills is not only to prepare for various disasters, but also to determine where the state’s preparedness is weak, in order to shore up those areas. The effort calls on state officials to think of everything, including how to feed the potentially thousands of disaster victims and the personnel which would be tasked with helping them. In order to prepare for this part of the response volunteers actually prepared thousands of meals in order to simulate Red Cross food preparation and distribution efforts.
The goal of the exercises is to “test what our limits are. What our strengths and weaknesses are,“ says Flynn. He hopes that, under his direction, the state will be far better prepared the next time a major disaster strikes.