So, today, 20 local agencies, including many emergency responders, area hospitals and local relief organizations all came together as part of a four-hour exercise to see just how prepared the area is for a mass-casualty disaster. The exercise is held annually, but this year, organizers decided on the scenario of a tornado striking the county so they could be better prepared for the next real one.
Around 7:15 a.m., the Calhoun County EMA received a scripted warning from National Weather Service workers, who informed them that a tornado would hit parts of Anniston sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.
After the imaginary tornado hit, nurses at Regional Medical Center rushed 41 off-duty nurses and students, playing the parts of injured civilians, through the hospital’s emergency room. Volunteers with the Calhoun-Cleburne Chapter of the American Red Cross set up a shelter at Greenbrier Baptist Church in Anniston. Jacksonville State University emergency management specialist Melonie Carmichael answered scripted distress calls made by Department of Human Resources workers.
“We just got a 911 call from a man in Wellborn. He said all the houses are gone from his area,” Carmichael announced.
Hillary Folsom, a spokeswoman with Regional Medical Center, said the hospital’s involvement in the exercise was to test the hospital’s emergency room capacity, and to see how well nurses were able to communicate with the EMA and Anniston EMS in crisis situations.
Folsom said when disaster patients come into an emergency room, they are given tags and taken to different areas based on the severity of their injuries. The same thing happened in the exercise.
The nurse manager of the emergency department, Edith Trammell, said that even though her nurses handled the exercise well, there were still improvements that needed to be made, especially when it came to tracking patients —today they misplaced one.
“We’re going to capture more information and have someone registering people every 15 minutes so that everyone is accounted for,” Trammell said.
Les Hontz is president of National Voluntary Organizations Active in a Disaster, an umbrella agency for local groups that provide disaster relief, such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Hontz told The Star by phone Tuesday that he became involved in the exercise because the statewide tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011, took the area by surprise. One twister struck Calhoun County, killing nine people and damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.
“When the tornado hit we didn’t have a plan. We just did everything by the seat of our pants,” he said. “We have a new plan, and want to exercise it this year.”
Hontz said the overwhelming number of people who tried to participate in the 2011 tornado relief efforts showed that there was a need for volunteer organization and management.
VOAD was in RMC’s Tyler Center today with a volunteer reception area set up for the people who wanted to help with the imaginary relief effort following the tornado exercise.
“Rather than have 500 people show up to a disaster area and overwhelm the first responders and law enforcement, we can organize and control them,” Hontz said. “Now we have a place for them to report, and we can send them in when needed.”
The Calhoun-Cleburne Chapter of the American Red Cross paired up with Greenbrier Baptist Church in Anniston to set up a local relief shelter for the exercise.
Jerry Leake, the Red Cross shelter supervisor, said that the Red Cross couldn’t provide care for those affected by disasters without the help of local community centers and churches.
“We’re very appreciative. They’re very special to us,” he said.
Joe Jankoski, the Red Cross community chapter executive, said the 2011 tornadoes opened up a need to provide mass care.
“They made everybody realize that there were areas that needed improving,” Jankoski said. “Now organizations are working together to ensure that we’re fully able to provide for a disaster.”
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.