Emergency Drill Prepares S.D. First Responders for the Worst
July 16—BATH—A tornado strikes.
Someone is trapped underground.
Anhydrous ammonia starts leaking, as does fuel.
Luckily, all of these events were simulations at an emergency drill Saturday at the Wheat Growers facility in Bath, a chance for several agencies and departments to test procedures for things they don't usually do and test the working relationships among them.
On hand were Brown County Emergency Management, Brown County Sheriff's Office, Groton Fire and Rescue, Columbia Fire Department, Aberdeen Rural Fire Department, Aberdeen Fire and Rescue, South Dakota Highway Patrol, Wheat Growers and Sanford Health.
The scenario started with a hypothetical 9-1-1 call reporting a possible tornado east of Aberdeen at 8:30 a.m. At 8:45 a.m., a tornado warning went out for Brown County. By 8:55, a Brown County deputy confirmed a tornado heading for the Wheat Growers facility.
Shortly after 9 a.m., several calls from Wheat Growers confirmed that the facility was hit, and emergency crews headed into action.
Of course, on Saturday, all of the emergency vehicles were at Wheat Growers by 8:30 a.m., in anticipation of the exercise.
One of the biggest differences between the drill and a real-life tornado is the small affected area.
"We're able to target this one area for this training," said Brian Koens, Brown County Sheriff's deputy. "It would be a countywide deal."
But, not only did the exercise give crews practice containing spills or rescuing people from unusual places, it got them working together.
Communication is always one of the biggest challenges, said Cody Bonn, who is in charge of the tactical rescue team at Wheat Growers.
"I think it was pretty chaotic in the beginning... I think it leveled out a lot quicker than a lot of our past trainings," Koens said.
During the drill, all teams ran on the same channel, which made things a little confusing, said Tom Tietz, Groton Fire Department chief. During a real event, each task would be assigned its own radio channel.
It's not just communicating with each other, but communicating with the public, Koens said. During a drill, there aren't Facebook messages or warnings put out.
If there's actually bad weather or a large-scale incident, the public should "be plugging into their radios and paying attention and maybe be checking their social media and what not to make sure that they're getting the information to keep them safe," Koens said. "But then also to review where their source is where they got that information from."
Like a real severe weather event, the emergency situations came one right after another. As one crew was working to contain an simulated anhydrous leak and get those acting as victims to Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center, another was rescuing an injured man from underground, pulling him up on a gurney.
If there would have been a real call during the drill, the crews needed would have left to take care of the emergency outside of the Wheat Growers facility, said Greg Smith, director of communications for Wheat Growers. If enough people needed to leave, the drill would have ended.
Not only did the drill provide a chance for crews to practice, it helps build camaraderie between the different agencies, because they do work together often, Koens said.
"Exercises like this, in a whole, make these people better to respond for the real thing," said Scott Meints, Brown County emergency manager. "We do these for these folks to one, practice, and two, make sure that their procedures and equipment is ready to handle these types of issues and emergencies."
American News, Aberdeen, S.D.