Emergency responders from the City of Columbus, Bartholomew County and Columbus Regional Hospital recently completed their first-ever disaster response training at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center that Mayor Kristen Brown believes will help ensure optimal preservation of property and victim survivability in the event of a natural disaster in our community.
The Indiana state-level exercise, called “Without Warning,” was organized by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and simulated a severe weather incident, including flooding and an EF3 tornado, set in the city of Wabash. Local emergency responders worked together with other responders from throughout the state and nation in real-life scenarios.
The purpose of the full-scale exercise was to evaluate response plans, policies and procedures in five core elements: an incident management team to provide on-scene leadership, a fire suppression group, a law enforcement group, an emergency medical response group and a service support team to provide logistical assistance.
Responders were confronted with multiple emergencies simultaneously. They searched for civilians in a damaged building only to become trapped by a collapse, responded to a riot and fire at a jail, cleaned up a hazardous materials spill in a large two-story building, and rescued a person from a 40-foot antenna – all before lunch.
“Incident management is vital for an orderly response to calls for help. Properly trained responders are a must and they must be well equipped,” said Capt. David Dwyer of the Columbus Fire Department.
Mayor Brown, Police Chief Jason Maddix and Fire Chief Dave Allmon joined the emergency responders Tuesday as they participated in the training. The Muscatatuck Urban Training Center provides incredibly realistic training facilities for such exercises, including a sunken city with water up to the tops of street signs and roofs, a disaster village with fallen trees and concrete pillars blocking roadways and a collapsed parking garage with occupied vehicles inside. Responders even had their communications equipment disrupted as they would during an actual disaster.
“This training exercise provides boots-on-the-ground experience that benefits our emergency responders as they prepare to handle the worst natural disasters that threaten our city,” Mayor Brown said. “Tornadoes or flooding can happen at any time, but it is reassuring to know our emergency responders have received outstanding training in our own backyard.”
Indiana has been divided into 10 Homeland Security Districts to encourage regional cooperation and teamwork across the state. Bartholomew County is one of seven counties in the District 8 Response Task Force. The goal of the state’s response task forces is to have all local emergency response agencies trained so that resources can be shifted across the state in the event of a natural disaster.
Columbus Police Department Officer Toby Combest, one of six officers from the department to participate in the training, was reminded the Flood of June 2008 as he helped rescue people from several houses in the sunken city and worked to stop looting in the wake of a disaster.
However, Combest said the state-level training also offered lessons in planning and cooperation with other departments that operate differently than local emergency agencies.
“The whole point is to get all these people in one place and make all these departments and all these entities work together as one unit,” Combest said.
The training this week marked the first time that emergency responders from the City of Columbus participated in a state-level exercise as a group. Firefighters from the City took part in similar training earlier this year when they attended the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District 5 Response Task Force disaster drill. Mayor Brown made a special request to the state to allow the Columbus firefighters to participate in the training after she joined Clark County emergency services officials as they surveyed the widespread damage in Henryville from tornadoes that struck southern Indiana in March.
Mike Kutsko, Deputy Chief of EMS for Columbus Fire Department, said the state-level exercises have emphasized the need for diversified training in solving large-scale problems with limited resources.
“This is great practice,” Kutsko said. “You never know what to expect out there.”