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Emergency Preparedness Drill at OTC Elicits Successful, Coordinated Effort Among Local Agencies

Okefenokee Technical College held a full-scale emergency preparedness drill on the Waycross Campus yesterday, December 11, 2009. Approximately 50 people participated.  Most of the “victims” were OTC nursing students who volunteered personal time. The exercise simulated a shooter on campus and included an explosion, hostages, and mass casualties, requiring the full, coordinated response of college officials, area law enforcement and emergency responders.

A number of agencies were engaged at day’s end, including the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), Ware County Public Safety Communication Center, Waycross Police Department, Ware County Sheriff Department, Waycross Fire Department, Ware County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Ware County Emergency Management Service (EMS), and Satilla Health Services.

The drill focused on how effectively the entities coordinated communication, disaster scene security and access control, response resources, care for disaster victims, media relations and information to the public.

According to the College’s safety coordinator, Andy Brannen, the drill began testing effective communication skills among agencies at the moment an observer at OTC called the Ware County Public Safety Communication Center (911) to report “man with gun” on campus.

“It is important for any institution to have plans to address emergency situations, stated
Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner, who used the extensive drill to evaluate and improve over 50 key WPD response processes. “OTC has taken the opportunity to exercise their plans to make sure they address the necessary procedures to afford their students the safest environment possible.”

"Working the plan in a real-life situation is a lot different from sitting around talking about it," said OTC President Gail Thaxton. According to Thaxton, Okefenokee Technical College has two plans that serve to guide staff in maintaining a safe work environment and in handling emergency incidents: (1) OTC Emergency Operations and Safety Plan and (2) OTC First Response, Disaster Recovery, and Business Continuity Plan. According to Brannen, both plans are in place to promote the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and customers.

"It is good to see they [OTC officials and staff]  are interested in testing the effectiveness of their plans and in making the plans practical and more effective,” stated Jeff Morrison, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) program director.

Jonathan Daniell, Ware County EMA director, also noted the value of exercises like this. "It is important that plans are executed," said Daniell. "If you don't hold exercises, you won't know if your plan will work."

“Training is key to an effective response in these situations,” said Morrison. “Training saves lives. This full-scale event it like a test that is the culmination of months of work. T he exercise allowed the College and participating agencies to turn their paper plans into action. This way, strengths and weaknesses were evaluated and plans for improvement put into place.”

In the final stages of the drill, victims of the simulated incident (i.e. explosion) were transported to Satilla Regional Medical Center for treatment. EMS and Waycross Fire Department personnel and hospital emergency room staff were “put to the test” as they were called upon to assess and treat 10 – 12 victims at once.

At the debriefing session, Morrison provided an after-action report and encouraged all agencies to evaluate their plans, processes, and procedures in light of the day’s events in order to improve individual agency performance and coordination among agencies.

“These are important exercises for everyone,” stated Thaxton. “We sincerely appreciate GEMA and our local EMA for helping coordinate this. We also wish to thank the participating agencies who demonstrated full commitment of complete collaboration and cooperation of agencies in order to protect and serve others.”

Thaxton extended sincere appreciation to Vickie Hickman and Jennifer Barnes from Tift County who made the unfortunate event seem lifelike through their expertise and talents in moulage, the art of applying mock injuries for the purpose of training emergency response teams and other medical and military personnel.

She also thanked Kristen Higgs and Diane Adams with GEMA and Camden County EMA director Mark Crews for their help as controllers during the drill. Dave Morrison, a real-life law enforcement officer turned “bad guy” for the event, was applauded and thanked. “His realistic portrayal of the scenario gave the exercise an additional element of emotion that heightened the experience.”
Jeff commended every agency by name - OTC, the police department, sheriff’s department, city fire department, Ware County Public Safety Communication Center, EMA, EMS, and SRMC - for the exemplary level of cooperation, communication, and collaboration exhibited during the months of planning and the full scale exercise.

In the coming weeks, the OTC First Response Team will meet to assess the college’s emergency response plans and make changes, as needed. A separate tabletop exercise or general discussion is also planned to discuss recovery procedures necessary after an incident like the drill scenario. Recovery topics include counseling provisions for students and staff, campus closure, post event communication with the campus community, and press releases.



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