Kentucky is gearing up for the nation’s largest emergency exercise, which will focus on a magnitude 7.7 earthquake and include everyone in the state — from citizens to the private sector — in the process.
National Level Exercise (NLE) 2011 will test the nation’s response to a catastrophic earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and provide all levels of government a chance to re-examine processes and learn lessons.
Kentucky is seeking to get feedback from everyone in the state regarding the exercise with the goal of developing a new emergency operations plan. Although it will be a government-run exercise, citizens, nonprofits, community-based organizations and the private sector are encouraged to participate and bring their knowledge to the table. During a conference call with the media, Brig. Gen. John Heltzel, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, said citizens can register to participate in the NLE on the division’s website and they will be provided with information, a quiz and a chance to give the state feedback about individual and community preparedness.
“We want every organization and every citizen to give us their feedback because a lot of time we’ll get a good idea from a citizen who will look at what’s going on from a slightly different perspective — and that slightly different perspective often is the most valuable one we get,” Heltzel said. “So our entire assessment process is going to be online and available to the public.”
Following the NLE, the feedback, after-action reports and lessons learned will be compiled and included in a new Commonwealth Emergency Operations Plan for the state. Heltzel hopes the new plan will be published in July.
Another approach to including the whole community in the exercise is the state’s work with the private and nonprofit sectors to see what they would need during an event of this magnitude, as well as what they could contribute. Following the 2009 ice storm, Kentucky created a task force out of volunteer agencies to increase the state’s relationship with them. The state is also is proving organizations with the opportunity to use tools that are being built into the NLE, including WebEOC and Esri GIS, said Heltzel.
NLE 2011 will take place May 16-20 and includes eight states and four FEMA regions. The operations-based exercise seeks to coordinate a multijurisdictional response among the players and is the first time the annual exercise will focus on a natural disaster. The participating states are Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
Each day of the exercise will focus on a different aspect. Day one will include assessing the damaged areas and communications requirements; day two will focus on life saving; day three is for mass evacuations and medical care; the fourth day will cover sustainment, which includes bringing in resources and setting up base camps; and the final day will be for developing after-action reports and assessing how things went.
The participating states are members of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) and they will be piloting the information-sharing platform Virtual USA during the NLE. “The idea with that particular software is they will be able to stay in their [emergency operation center] and see what the status is across all impacted eight states,” Heltzel said. Virtual USA was unveiled in December 2009, and according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, it “utilizes current information-sharing platforms to permit new and existing technologies to seamlessly exchange information with one another.”
The central states are also taking a cue from California’s ShakeOut program that seeks to spread the message of “drop, cover and hold on” during an earthquake. The CUSEC is organizing the event, which will take place April 28 and is open to anyone. Heltzel said it will be similar to a tornado drill in which all participants will do the same action at the same time — in this case it will be at 10:15 a.m. CDT. About 20 states are participating in the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut and more than 2 million people have signed up, he said.
Heltzel said earthquakes cannot be predicted and that’s why it is important to focus on preparedness. “It doesn’t have to be an earthquake to get your attention, what we need people to pay attention to is individual preparedness, family preparedness and community preparedness — that is the key to surviving any catastrophic event.”