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Red Cross, BEMS test ability to handle disaster

Emergency drill includes 'wild scenarios"

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POSTED: August 23, 2014 3:34 p.m.
Jeff Whitten/

American Red Cross Local Action Team Captain Jeff Barnes explains why the agency held an emergency shelter drill Saturday in Richmond Hill.

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A raging wildfire burned multiple South Bryan homes, a tanker truck exploded --- seemed just about everything that could go wrong did Saturday at a tony South Bryan neighborhood.

On purpose.

It was only a simulation, and all a part of an American Red Cross emergency shelter drill which for the first time included members of Bryan County Emergency Services and the Richmond Hill Police Department.

Even members of St. Elizabeth Church Boy Scout Troop 486 got into the act.

“In order to be able to think on the fly and get stuff done, you’ve got to practice. This was a way for us to increase the realism,” said Jeff Barnes, who heads up the American Red Cross action disaster team in Bryan County. “It was really ramped up this year. They threw some wild scenarios at those guys.”

So ramped up that firefighters were physically dispatched to WaterWaysTownship, a gated community off Highway 144, where they battled a mock wildfire that spread across the development. At the same time, BEMS set up an emergency command center in the parking lot of Richmond Hill High School as volunteer evacuees filtered in to the RHHS gym, where half a dozen nurses took care of simulated casualties.

What’s more, volunteer boy scouts canvassed area neighborhoods to help spread the message of emergency preparedness. In all, there were 20 American Red Cross volunteers, another 15 members of BEMS and a dozen or so scouts helping out. And six emergency vehicles, including the county’s massive mobile incident command center.

Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell said the drill helps his volunteers get ahead of the curve when it comes to responding to disasters.

“It involves our command bus, our incident command structure and our resources and it allows us to see what we would do in certain situations,” he said. “We did it in a joint effort with the Red Cross this year because they’ve got an evacuation shelter. I think it went very well. I know we learned a lot from it.”

So did the scouts, troop leader Jim Porter said.

“Boy Scouts have a role in disaster response,” he said. “One of the boys’ Eagle Scout requirements is to earn their emergency preparedness merit badge. Doing this helps them learn what goes into disaster response, emergency preparedness and gets them ready for Eagle Scout.”

Porter, who is retired military and now works at Gulfstream, said the drill is important because it shows what works. 

“It tests systems,” he said. “It’s like this trailer full of gear over here. If you don’t shake it out and try the equipment, you don’t know if it’ll work when you need it.”

Barnes said many people don’t realize the Red Cross, which relies entirely on donations, is also there to provide disaster relief.

“When somebody’s house burns down, that’s a local disaster, it’s a disaster to that family, and we have a local team to assist that family,” he said. “The same with evacuations for disasters such as this one. This is training to us and part of our outreach effort. Our role is not only to assist people when there’s an actual disaster but get out ahead of the game and get the community prepared in event of a disaster.”

Barnes said the Red Cross can always use more help, but “you can only help your community if you are prepared yourself,” and that’s why his team distributed checklists and door hangers through neighborhoods and also invited people out to RHHS on Saturday morning for the drill.

Howell thanked WaterWays and its HOA for volunteering for the simulated wildfire and said he wants to do another drill.

“Each time we do something like this we learn something new.”

Howell is also seeking more Bryan County residents for the BEMS’ Citizen’s Emergency Services Academy, which gets under way Sept. 11. “We’ve got plenty of room,” he said.

Both he and Barnes said their teams performed well, and Porter put the morning’s drill in perspective.

“You pray you never need it, but it’s good to have some people around who know what they’re doing if you do need it,” he said.

 

For more information about theBryanCountyEmergencyServicesCitizensAcademy, go to http://www.bryancountyga.org/departments/emergency_services/citizen_emergency_services_academy.php

 

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