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Responding to the unexpected is a part of everyday life for Emergency Responders and Law Enforcement in Haywood County, but it still pays to test your readiness every once in a while.

That’s exactly what some 30 town, county, state and federal agencies will be doing for 30 hours beginning this Friday, April 24. The county received a $60,000 grant in 2008 from the federal Dept. of Homeland Security to conduct an exercise simulating a large-scale disaster on I-40. It will be the biggest emergency preparedness drill conducted in North Carolina this year, said Greg Shuping, Haywood County Emergency Management Director.


“This will be the first time we’ve done anything of this proportion in Haywood County,” said Shuping. “Everything we’ve been working on for the last few years will be put to the test through this exercise.”

 

The exercise simulates a full-scale, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional and multi-state exercise focusing on a natural disaster on I-40. The reason for such a simulation is because a real-life catastrophic loss of infrastructure on I-40 would have potentially have a tremendous effect not only on the health and safety of travelers on the highway, but on national transportation and commerce.

 

“Our objective for the exercise is to evaluate our ability to plan, communicate, operate and function within a Unified Command System, and our ability to put such a system in place in the event of a real disaster,” Shuping said.

 

The Unified Command System and Incident Command Systems are functions of the Federal Emergency Management Association’s National Incident Management System, put in place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized, on-scene incident management approach that can be applied to any hazard and allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.

“The beauty of NIMS is that it enables us to make a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and agencies, everything from public to private,” Shuping said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve had dozens and dozens of Haywood County personnel who have trained to manage an incident using this system.”

The county has laid the groundwork for such an exercise in a variety of ways, including the formation of a Local Emergency Planning Committee that meets quarterly to discuss local preparedness; development of an intensive NIMS training curriculum in partnership with Haywood Community College; and, most recently, forming and providing training for a local Incident Management Team, a core group of about 30 individuals trained to work in any facet of the Incident Command structure.

The trick, however, is not only being able to use ICS effectively, but to sustain it over the duration of an incident by always having qualified personnel available to step into roles, so that you can keep people rested and help avoid becoming overwhelmed – the Unified Command function.

“This involves having multiple personnel available to step into necessary roles for the duration of an incident, whether that’s 30 hours or 30 days,” Shuping said. “The need for adequate facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures and communications doesn’t go away in a real incident. More likely, the needs intensify as an incident develops.”

Though this weekend’s event is a simulation, planners have taken steps to create as much authenticity as possible. An Incident Command Center will be established, most likely somewhere in the Jonathan Creek area. There will actually be “volunteer” victims taken to local hospitals, and heavy equipment used to simulate debris removal and other activities.

“We plan to test ourselves in as many different aspects of a real disaster as we possibly can,” Shuping said. “It is going to be a great opportunity to put to use what we’ve learned.”

The goal, Shuping said, will not be to get everything right, but to test how effectively the Incident Command training is put to use. The drill has been planned with a group of evaluators who will provide feedback on the exercise.

“We will most definitely learn a lot, and we will most definitely find areas where we need to continue to develop our resources,” Shuping said.

Participating organizations will include the following Haywood County agencies: 9-1-1 Communications, Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Services, Fire Marshal, Public Information, and Sheriff’s Office. Other participating local agencies will include Waynesville and Maggie Valley Police Departments, Lake Junaluska Security, Haywood Regional Medical Center, Mission Hospital, Mountain Area Trauma Advisory Council; the Clyde, Cruso, Saunook, Waynesville, Crabtree, Maggie Valley, Jonathan Creek, Fines Creek and Junaluska Fire Departments; several Buncombe County Fire Departments; Haywood County Citizen Corps and Community Emergency Response Teams; Haywood Public Transit; Haywood Community College; Haywood County Schools; Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians; WNC Urban Search and Rescue Teams; WNC Medical Assistance Teams; NC Dept. of Transportation; N.C. Highway Patrol; and N.C. Emergency Management.

Several local businesses are supporting the exercise by providing equipment, personnel or supplies. They include: the Farmer’s Co-op; Oaks Unlimited, Blue Ridge Emergency Preparedness Group; Clark and Leatherwood; Southern Concrete; Grasty Excavating, Brent Peterson, MD; Haywood Community College, American Red Cross; N.C. Dept. of Transportation; and Caldwell Towing.