Trip to prepare officials for disaster

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:57 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

To better deal with everything from tornadoes to terrorist attacks, about 50 officials from Columbia and Boone County met Monday morning to prepare for a trip to a Federal Emergency Management Agency training session in Maryland.

The Feb. 13 trip will include representatives from a host of agencies, including the Columbia and MU police departments, the city and county fire departments, and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, and administrators from various health-care institutions.

In total, 75 officials are expected to participate in the weeklong training session at the National Emergency Training Center, which is operated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The training will involve simulations, said Columbia-Boone County Office of Emergency Management Director Jim McNabb, who has been coordinating the trip. Unlike many training sessions that center on disaster situations in fictitious places, these exercises will be specific to Columbia and Boone County.

“It’s going to be very realistic to an event that could occur

in our community,” McNabb said.

FEMA representatives visited Columbia several times in December to become familiar with the community, McNabb said.

The sessions will include all the resources of FEMA’s training center, which is based in Emmitsburg, Md.

“The advantage of having it out at FEMA is that they do 28 (training sessions) a year,” Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig-Hopkins said. “They have designed an experience that is very unique to Columbia.”

Monday morning’s meeting gave participants more information about the trip, including travel and training details, and copies of the city’s Emergency Operations Plan were distributed. To make the training as realistic as possible, however, the participants were not told the specifics of the simulations.

Training will involve all forms of emergency response, including both natural disasters and instances of terrorism.

“We do exercises every year, but we’ve been doing that even more so since 9-11,” Hertwig-Hopkins said.

Another aspect of the training will test the city’s emergency plan.

“It’s one thing to have it on paper,” sheriff’s Maj. Tom Reddin said. “Now we have an opportunity to see if it is going to work.”

It will also be a chance for officials to survey the resources of various agencies and “work together to iron out any problems,” sheriff’s Capt. Gary German said. Neither he nor Reddin has previously attended FEMA training.

Hertwig-Hopkins said the trip will also foster communication between city and county officials, which can be important in emergencies.

“It’s an opportunity for us to come together and work together,” she said.

Hertwig-Hopkins said adequate resources will be in place during the training to ensure the city and county’s safety.

McNabb applied for the training through FEMA in April and received approval in the fall.

“It’s not every community that gets selected, so we’re honored to go,” Hertwig-Hopkins said.

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