Iowa has already experienced 15 tornadoes this year, one of which caused significant damage to the town of Seymour. Recognizing this could happen to their city, the residents of Story City partnered with the Story County Coalition for Disaster Recovery (CDR) to hold a disaster exercise on Saturday, May 6. Using a scenario of a tornado devastating a large portion of Story City, several members of the CDR converged on the Harvest Evangelical Free Church in Story City to open a mock shelter for city residents.
The exercise tested the CDR’s ability to rapidly bring together multiple volunteer organizations to aid a community during a disaster.
“My office will be very busy supporting the first responders in the community who are dealing with the disaster and also ensuring we take care of citizens’ immediate needs for shelter. The ability of the CDR to set-up a shelter will take a big load off our shoulders and allow us to focus on other important issues,” said Keith Morgan, Story County Emergency Management coordinator.
The exercise involved many long-term CDR agencies like the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES), RSVP Phone Bank, United Way, and Red Cross and it also brought on-board two new agencies; the Iowa Jeep Club and Rapid Action Team for Shelters (RATS).
All the agencies have very specific roles responding to disasters and the CDR helps to integrate their capabilities to meet the needs of a community impacted by a disaster. This exercise tested the ability of the CDR to contact the leadership of organizations, quickly get volunteers and equipment to the disaster location, and organizing them to receive disaster survivors. Melissa Spencer, the deputy coordinator for Story County Emergency Management, said that it was impressive to see the CDR coordinator Betty Boccella take charge of the volunteers to get a trailer with shelter supplies delivered by the Jeep Club, unloading the trailer and setting up cots, establishing a reception area for survivors and getting a phone bank going to answer questions.
The exercises also tested a new concept recently developed by the CDR, their Rapid Action Teams for Shelter (RATS). These are community-based teams who are able to quickly establish shelters within their communities or neighboring communities. Morgan said that the Story City RATS are leading the way for community preparedness.
“Communities need to be prepared to initiate a response to disaster and take care of their family and friends while other disaster response resources are mobilized. I wish every community had RATS to support their sheltering needs in a disaster,” he said.
While the exercise went well, it identified some weaknesses in the response procedures and CDR agencies will be coming together improve their processes.
Betty Boccella, the CDR coordinator, said, “This exercise showed we’ve got a lot of volunteers that want to have the skills and knowledge needed to really help their neighbors during disaster. Now I’m going to work to take the lessons learned from this exercise and develop specific trainings our coalition members. This training should help them continue to improve their ability to do their assigned missions.”
“Communities that want to build their own RATS should contact the Coalition for Disaster Recovery at email@example.com and Betty will work with them to develop this capability,” Spencer said.