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Disaster drill simulates tornado strike at WCHS
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You may never know when disaster may strike, but thanks to Warren County Emergency Management Agency director Jim Cunningham, emergency personnel in the county are now prepared if a tornado happens to hit Warren County High School on a night when 1,000 people are in attendance for a basketball game.
Cunningham spent three months preparing that scenario for a disaster drill which was held last week beginning at Bridgestone Learning Center and ending at River Park Hospital.
A disaster drill is an exercise in which people simulate the circumstances of a disaster so they have an opportunity to practice their response. Such drills are used to identify weak points in a disaster response plan, and to get people familiar with the steps they need to take so their response in a disaster will be automatic.
Disasters are unpredictable by nature, and this can make them difficult when it comes to preparation. If people do not practice their responses, they will usually not be prepared when disaster does happen. Although disaster drills may not anticipate every potential scenario, it gives emergency personnel and first-responders an idea of how to behave during a disaster.
The drill was designed to test first-responder emergency plans, as well as the emergency plan of River Park Hospital. River Park is required to test its emergency response plan twice a year with one of those being with the community, according to River Park director of plant operations Rick Osborn.
Almost 50 people attended tabletop discussions at Bridgestone, including representatives from McMinnville and Morrison fire departments., Caney Fork Electric, West-Warren Utility District, McMinnville Electric, Ben Lomand Connect, Bridgestone, Warren County Schools, American Red Cross, McMinnville Public Works, Warren County Ambulance Service, Warren County Rescue Squad and Middle Tennessee Natural Gas.
Sheriff Jackie Matheny, sheriff’s deputies, Police Chief Brian Denton, McMinnville city policemen and County Executive John Pelham attended the discussions, as did the EMS directors from the surrounding counties of Coffee, DeKalb and Grundy.
Attendees were given a “Warren County Exercise Situation Manual” and were asked to discuss the developing scenario taking place.
The scenario is a National Weather Service notification that Coffee, Cannon, DeKalb and Warren counties are under a tornado warning. A tornado has destroyed two buildings in Summitville. The tornado is moving at over 30 mph in a north/ northeasterly direction.
EMS said it would be waiting and watching at this point. Hospital personnel said the hospital would be under a code black which would mean they move everyone away from windows and glass.
The scenario then changes as a basketball game is in progress at WCHS with 1,000 in attendance. A tornado has touched down just southwest of McMinnville in the county and stays on the ground for 4.3 miles. A large water tank near Morrison has been hit and is leaking. The Bridgestone plant has suffered major structural damage.
Director of Schools Bobby Cox said the basketball game at the high school would be stopped and people would be moved from the gym to the hallways away from glass and windows. “Teams can be controlled by coaches, but adults cannot be controlled by each other. It is hard when adults don’t want to do what we ask. We might need more security in a situation like this,” said Cox.
“When the storm has history of damage, that is a game-changer,” said 911 director Chuck Haston. “As soon as the siren at the Civic Center is activated, we will be fielding phone calls. We will typically field 250 calls within 30 minutes. Everyone else’s lives won’t stop because of the tornado. We will still have a shoplifter at Walmart, a domestic dispute call, someone will call because a dog is barking. We will have all the trees down being called in. These are important, but many are non-emergency. We will have to put the non-emergency calls on hold.”
The scenario continued as the tornado was on a straight path to WCHS. The roof was gone from parts of WCHS. Phone lines were out and cellphones were working sporadically. Forty people had minor injuries and 15 had life-threatening injuries. Twelve people were reported missing.     `
Osborn said the hospital will, at this point, go on code yellow which means an internal or external disaster.
Attendees concurred that text messages from 911 dispatch, as well as information learned from weather radios, is very helpful during situations such as this. A representative from River Park Hospital said the hospital would like to get on the list in order to receive texts from 911 dispatch.
Steve Sabados, Grundy County EMS director, said “The most important thing to do is set up a center or staging area to determine what everyone else is doing. Everyone wants to help, but most tend to be territorial and want to protect their own turf first.”
Attendees discussed how to identify people who should be allowed on the school campus and who should be let into Bridgestone if such a situation were to occur, notification of casualties, and how to identify the people who need the most help and how to direct the help to those people.
 “I have spent 15 minutes arguing with someone who would not let me into an area to shut of the gas. In the chaos of the moment, sometimes it’s how directions get relayed,” said Cliff Swoape, manager of safety training at Middle Tennessee Natural Gas.
Attendees discussed having badges made to National Incident Management System standards. NIMS is emergency management doctrine used across the United States to coordinate emergency preparedness and incident management and response among the federal, state, and local government agencies.
The drill moved to River Park Hospital in the afternoon where nursing students from Tennessee Technology Center played the 15 injured tornado patients. The “patients” were brought to River Park via ambulance with hospital personnel waiting at the ambulance doors with packets in hand to swiftly move the patients through the waiting area.
The “patients” had signs on various parts of their bodies informing the waiting doctors and nurses the severity of their injuries.
Osborn said, “The 15 patients we can handle. It’s the four family members per patient we will have problems dealing with. Everyone is impatient. They want to know how their family member is doing.”
Cunningham deemed the drill a successful functional exercise. He said other counties are looking at this exercise as a pattern for their counties to go by.