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Agencies, colleges to hold mock disaster drill


Nathan Gregory



In the event that a disaster happens on a school campus, communication between all local agencies is key to helping those at risk get to a place of safety. 


Those agencies will hold a disaster preparedness exercise next Thursday on the Mississippi University for Women and East Mississippi Community College Golden Triangle campuses to get a better idea of how good that communication is, Columbus Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency director Cindy Lawrence said. 


Local first responders, Columbus Air Force Base and other local and state agencies will participate in the mock disaster drill designed to simulate a situation involving mass casualties, Lawrence said.  


"The agencies want to test their response. Everybody knows it's an exercise. They don't know what the exercise is. They just know it's an exercise," she said. "Once the call comes in and tells what it is, when 911 starts dispatching the response, that's what we want to test: How do you respond once you get that call?" 


More specifically, effectiveness in interoperability between law, fire and EMS responders, the ability to coordinate mutual aid personnel and resources from other sites, accuracy of release of official information and rumor control as well as the ability of law enforcement to control traffic and maintain a perimeter at the scene of a disaster will be evaluated, she said.  


"We're really wanting to know how we all communicate with each other and how we share information from one agency to another," Lawrence said. "The second thing is when you have mass casualties, do emergency medical services have the ability to respond?" 


Latonya Ward, community response coordinator with the Mississippi Red Cross, said that organization's responders will be on the scene to test the agency's Safe and Well exercise, which is designed as an outlet for those at the site to notify family and friends that they are safe by going to where the agency is stationed and providing that information for its database. 


"That is where we make ourselves available for parents to come and see if their student has checked in and it's also an opportunity for the students to come by and say, 'I'm OK just in case somebody is looking for me,'" Ward said. "In an actual situation our database would be set up where if I don't know where anyone is I would go to the Red Cross station and say, 'My name is Latonya Ward and I'm OK. This is my address if someone is looking for me.' All of that goes into the database, so if my mom came to try to find me, she could go into the database and see if I'm checked in." 


MUW assistant professor of nursing Deborah Miranda said nursing faculty and students will work with emergency responders during the simulation. 


"It is vital for community agencies to periodically perform such tests in order to identify opportunities to improve system procedures," Miranda said in a university release. "The overall purpose is to preserve and protect the lives and well-being of the citizens of our community."


Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.



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