Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Hill County officials gathered Wednesday to see how they would respond to a disaster in the county, planning actions if a major flood were to occur in Hill and Blaine counties. A twist on the need for preparedness set the exercise back a bit Blaine County officials who had planned to participate from Blaine County via telecommunications had to face a real disaster: a sweeping grass fire in eastern Blaine County. “It just shows you how you need to be prepared,” Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said in the Emergency Operations Center in the Hill County Detention Center, where the exercise was held. Details about the Blaine County fire were not available this morning. The tabletop exercise was a scaled-down version of a session held last fall, where representatives of city, county, schools; and tribal governments; and businesses from Hill and Blaine counties reacted to scenarios in a simulated influenza pandemic. Ron Knudson, Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, said after Wednesday’s exercise that part of the reason it was held was to familiarize county officials with the equipment in the EOC and what they would need to do if a disaster were actually declared. “We just need to start familiarizing ourselves with the equipment and the emergency operation plans,” he said. In the simulation, above-average snow-melt and heavy rains in Canada had started flooding, with the first disaster being the washing out of a bridge near Havre. Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera, who by policy would automatically Become incident commander in a flood disaster, appointed members of the group to positions such as head of operations, public information officer and head of communications, to set up and maintain the technical side of using the telephones, faxes, Internet connections and so on. He commented that something as simple as knowing how to set up and operate the Internet, the four telephones and the conference phone in the EOC could make all the difference in reacting to an emergency. “It’s the little things that count sometimes in these kinds of operations,” Szudera said. He then went on to write a disaster action plan and the group reacted to different situations including writing information statements to release to the public, planning how to get warnings out to people in high-risk areas, reactions to specific areas if flooding became severe, such as manning pumps near the dikes around Havre, and discussing evacuations if they became needed. The tabletop exercise which qualifies as a disaster simulation for the state Disaster and Emergency Services requirements for those who attended was much smaller than the all-day flu pandemic simulation last fall. Knudson said this exercise was kept much smaller intentionally, restricting it to county government, in order to keep it focused and on track. He said future sessions could be held, possibly on a regular basis, to include more people and continue to familiarize people with the equipment at the EOC.