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It was a tense moment Sept. 30 as plumes of black smoke poured out of the back of a burning pick-up truck parked at Exxon Travel Center at Interstate 25 and State Highway 52 in Frederick. Crews from …
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It was a tense moment Sept. 30 as plumes of black smoke poured out of the back of a burning pick-up truck parked at Exxon Travel Center at Interstate 25 and State Highway 52 in Frederick.
Crews from multiple city fire departments – Fort Lupton, Brighton, Frederick, Keenesburg, and Boulder Mountain View – were on hand, but unsure how to respond. They didn’t know why the truck was burning. Did it contain a bomb? Was there a risk of a chemical spill?
The Incident Command Center was quickly set up at the site while the Command Operations Center was set up at the nearby Carbon Valley Emergency Response Center, ready to be a communication and resource in case things went badly and a mass evacuation became necessary.
Luckily, it was a test. It was the Weld County multi-city emergency response exercise scenario that is set up annually with emergency responders and several government agencies preparing for an actual emergency.
“You have a call-in, a suspicious vehicle parked with smoke coming out of it. It is a real-world scenario and the emergency responders have no idea until they get there and start working through it, “ said Jennifer Finch, Weld County Public Information Officer.
More than 14 agencies with over 100 people registered to participate in the real-life scenario with the fire department’s on-site Incident Command Center working together with the Emergency Response Center manager to come up with a plan to bring in resources to investigate.
“The emergency responders had no idea what was going to happen this morning,” Finch said. “Bell Cell Training Exercise Consulting was brought in by the county, they planned the scenario. No one knows what it’s going to be, it is real-world and they don’t know what is going to be thrown at them. The scenarios are to see what works and doesn’t work.”
Ideally, the Incident Command Center (ICC) works together with the Emergency Response Center (EOC) in event of a disaster.
Incident Command Center is the site of disaster where emergency responders arrive to assess and investigate the situation, she said. An ICC manager communicates with EOC for resources and also if people need to be evacuated.
EOC is where the agencies work together to get the resources and move people.
Meanwhile, an infrastructure team works to get good information out to the teams on the ground. The Geospatial Information System (GIS) team is the web application team.
When Weld County floods hit in 2013, GIS was valuable to have on the team to move people, Finch said. GIS creates the city mapping with population numbers. The mapping communicates to officials how many people are in an area and how many houses are impacted. It tells them how many shelters are available too.
The test wasn’t just for fire crews. A group of agencies, including the American Red Cross, set up in case a population needed to suddenly leave their homes if the fire turned more dangerous. The agencies are set up to move people to shelters, a school, or a stadium, etc. Also, it set up supplies such as oxygen for certain groups, or where to move people with animals, or transportation for people who can’t leave their homes.
The test included other functions as well. A finance group was on hand to approve expenses in an emergency such as water needed and helicopters for a fire. The Logistic section helped evacuate a school but they need an interpreter to help communicate with a couple of children.
Public Information Officers continue to send out press releases to the media to inform the public of the disaster and where to go to be safe.
When the emergency response exercise was completed Merrie Gardner, Emergency Management Coordinator at EOC, and her team evaluated what worked and did not work at the Frederick site.
“Communication between the field response and the EOC is often one of the most challenging aspects of exercises and incidents, and I was pleased with how well it went yesterday. At the end of the exercise, we compared our situation reports and they were very consistent. Another objective was to set up the EOC within 30 minutes of activation, and we accomplished this goal in just under 20 minutes.”
The team identified a couple of areas for improvement. They need to continue to identify people to work in key roles at EOC.
“One of those is the resource mobilization and logistics section, which is responsible for supplies, resources, and facilities that might be needed in a disaster. The processes we have in place worked well in the exercise, but in a different type of incident this section is likely to be very busy, so we anticipate a need for more people to fill this role,” said Gardner.
The exercise also pointed out the need to improve some technologies in the Emergency Operations Center.
“We utilized some data and mapping display tools yesterday for the first time, and quickly realized it would help to have additional screens and the ability to display information to participants in the EOC in multiple ways. We will also work on adding a more efficient printing capability and some paper maps to our EOC to make sure we build in some redundancy in case one technology doesn’t work,” said Gardner.
“Overall, I think everything went well in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). One of our primary objectives was to maintain situational awareness and a shared operating picture, and I think we accomplished that,” said Gardner.”
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