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In the News

Regional homeland security exercise educates response crews

Monday, December 05, 2016

More than 30 local, state, federal, and private business emergency response agencies conducted an all hazards training exercise in early November to deploy specialized teams and equipment used in regional disaster response. The three-day event, which occurred in Lee and Travis counties, worked to improve communications, enhance partnerships and reinforce command protocols between agencies.

“Lee County and everyone involved learned some valuable takeaways from the exercise, and we all will be expanding on what we learned to continue to improve our disaster response,” said Delynn Peschke, Lee County Emergency Management Coordinator. It was the first time for the county to participate in a large scale exercise so pooling resources such as Austin Fire Department and Williamson County Hazardous Materials Response Team to work alongside the county’s volunteer firefighters demonstrated a higher level of training experience. “Training like this is invaluable for knowing what resources are available and how to facilitate their response,” Peschke said. “It also helps build relationships that strengthen communication and cooperation with other local jurisdictions and state agencies.”

Lee County hosted sites for mock incidents for two of the three days the training occurred. At the El Dorado Chemical Co. fertilizer plant in Giddings, emergency crews simulated responses to an explosion, an unexploded bomb, a hostage situation, radiation leaks, and hazardous chemical leaks. Hazardous material and mass fatality response also was simulated at City Park in Lexington.

Every scenario the teams practiced could occur somewhere in the region, said Marty Herrin, Chief of Williamson County’s Hazardous Materials Response Team who planned the exercise. Fortunately in most cases, training events are the only times specialty equipment such as a toxic chemical monitor gets used. It is critical that public safety personnel train using this equipment so when it is needed they know how it works.

Lee County also tested CAPCOG’s regional notification system that alerts residents of emergencies through phone calls, text messages and emails. Within 36 minutes, the system called, emailed and texted enough people to reach 81 percent of the households in Lee County, 64 percent of those notifications were answered. The system only contacts residents who have landline phones and those who self-registered cellphones and email addresses at WarnCentralTexas.org. “The notification system worked very well,” Peschke said. “In a real event, it is beneficial to know how fast these alerts can go out. It would be our primary way of delivering information in a real emergency.” Residents throughout the CAPCOG region can register their cellphone numbers and email addresses at WarnCentralTexas.org.

> Help spread the word about WarnCentralTexas.org.

CAPCOG has begun work on an after action report to provide greater insight on how emergency teams and command staff performed during the exercise. “The report will show us where we excelled and where our response can be improved,” said Eric Carter, CAPCOG Homeland Security director. “Training for disasters is a never ending process because every situation is a little different no matter how much you plan.” A debriefing meeting will occur Dec. 16 at CAPCOG, and the after action report should be completed in January. It will then help local governments develop a plan to improve their response.

> Learn more about the CAPCOG Homeland Security Division.

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