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Friday, April 9th, 2010

Emergency notification process needs reviewed

By William Kincaid

Multiple agencies from throughout Mercer County participate in a mock disaster r. . .

CELINA - Celina City Schools needs to work on how the public would be notified of an emergency situation at the school, officials learned at a recent mock disaster exercise sponsored by the Mercer County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).
Superintendent Matt Miller said administrators are discussing when to alert the public of a disaster, whether a chemical spill or natural disaster. Should the public be notified when the situation first occurs or when more information is available?
"It really depends on the actual situation," Miller said.
Also, they need to decide who would make the announcement.
"Depending on the situation, that may not be me," Miller said.
  Multiple agencies from throughout Mercer County participated in a mock disaster at Celina schools last month, with the recommendations of what to work on released just recently.
The exercise focused around a mock accident between a school bus and chemical truck, EMA Deputy Director Mike Robbins said. Participating were school officials, city fire and police departments, Mercer County Sheriffs Department, the city public works department, Mercer County EMS, Mercer County Red Cross and Mercer Health.
Robbins said the school needs to evaluate its emergency notification system, but said the coordinated results of all participants was good.
Celina Fire Chief Doug Walters said the school also will discuss how they will release students to parents in an emergency situations.
"The exercises are all about learning," EMA Director Wanda Dicke said.
Robbins suggested the school use its notification system, which currently alerts people through text messages, phone calls and e-mail about school delays and cancellations, for emergency situations.
The school - as well as all emergency response agents - use an instant command system that designates authority among people involved in a situation, Robbins said.
School officials use it in their buildings every day, but need to formalize the process, Robbins said.
"I think everybody learned a lot. The law enforcement seems to work with the schools (drug checks) ... a lot more than the fire and EMS on a daily basis," Robbins said.
This was the first table top disaster exercise at Celina schools in five years, Miller said, adding the last exercise was a weather emergency scenario.
"This exercise was a great mental activity that will lead to better planning and communication to better serve our residents," Miller said, explaining each participating entity had to work within a time frame that replicated a real crisis.
The EMA is required to conduct an emergency scenario each year, Robbins said.
In September, it will hold another bus/chemical truck accident scenario, possibly at the Mercer County Fairgrounds.
"We're actually going to get a bus," Robbins said, adding volunteers will be needed as passengers.
The event will count as an EMA activity and a required in-service for local bus drivers, Robbins said.
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