A weeklong training exercise in Maryland last week challenged 70 city and county leaders to deal with a scenario in which a tornado whizzed through the community, damaging businesses, historic buildings and public facilities.
The event in Emmitsburg, Md., was facilitated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The training also involved two other simulations: a winter weather disaster and the twister’s aftermath.
“Every one was a little more intense,” said Jim McNabb, director of the Columbia-Boone County Office of Emergency Management and coordinator of the trip. “It was pushing the norm and requiring people to think beyond what they normally would and actually present them with a challenge.”
Among the agencies represented were the city and county fire departments, public schools, MU, the medical examiner’s office and various volunteer organizations. Local business representatives also attended.
“They play a vital and critical role in the survival of any community,” McNabb said.
Jim Chapman of the Salvation Army attended as a volunteer representative. He said one of the strengths of his organization is its ability to garner support from other communities.
“While we are small in number in the community, we have the ability to reach out to other branches,” Chapman said.
“The biggest thing we gained was an expanded relationship with other agencies,” he added.
Participants said the third simulation, recovering from the tornado, presented the most challenge.
“Probably where we need to enhance our system is in the long-term recovery,” said Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig-Hopkins. “Plus, you have to make sure you have in place all the day-to-day operations (to continue functioning).”
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre said the group’s emergency plans worked well. “There was just some fine-tuning (needed), and that’s the reason we went out there.”
Hertwig-Hopkins agreed: “All of the facilitators concurred at the end that Columbia and Boone County was one of the best and most prepared groups that had ever gone through the course. I was really proud of everyone that was there.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman, City Manager Ray Beck and Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm skipped the conference in order to attend the funeral of Molly Bowden. Those in Maryland held a brief memorial to acknowledge her death, as well as the deaths of Southern Boone County Fire District Chief John Thomas and David Roberts of the Boone County Planning and Building Department.