Drills paid off on night of tornado

May 25, 2013

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At times, the practice drills conducted in the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) might involve a lot of light-hearted joking.

“It can get a little silly sometimes,” said Sheriff Roger Deeds.

But the regular practice drills that are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because of the county’s proximity to the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant is being credited for why local officials are being praised for their handling of last week’s tornado tragedy.

“The drills help keep the county in the mode to work together so that we will be ready for real events,” Deeds said.

A number of city, county, regional and state entities participate in the drills. Even the school district is involved. Last week, Granbury ISD deployed school buses to take news media to the ravaged Rancho Brazos neighborhood.

To keep everyone on their toes, extra challenges are sometimes thrown into the mix of whatever fictitious emergency is being worked during a drill.

For instance, a countywide evacuation due to an imaginary radiation leak at the nuclear power plant might be complicated by a wreck on Highway 377 that blocks lanes of traffic.

Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Wilson said that those “curve balls” not only make drill participants more prepared for real emergencies, but they also train them in ways to be proactive.

Gov. Rick Perry, who came to Hood County last week, was among those who praised Hood County’s emergency response team. Congressman Mike Conaway, who viewed the ravaged neighborhood last Saturday, did the same.

Some of the issues handled through the EOC are things that most people might not think of – such as making sure that Port-a-Johns are delivered to the disaster site, said Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Berry.

In the aftermath of the tornado, briefings were held in the EOC twice a day – one at 8 a.m., the other at 3 p.m.

Starting Thursday, the meetings were pared down, though regular communications were continued via phone and email.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, but I’m not the only one who’s been overwhelmed,” said Wilson. “The bright side is, there are plenty of people here able to assist me. It’s not an individual trying to do it, it’s a team.”

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