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Responders hold mock disaster exercise

While the majority of Greenville remained blissfully unaware one quiet Thursday morning, the county’s first responders wrestled with a disaster situation, albeit a manufactured one.

The Butler County Emergency Management Agency, alongside local hospitals, police and fire departments, staged a mock disaster training exercise at Crowne Health Care to test their resolve in an emergency situation.

Their patients, volunteer students from Greenville High School’s Jobs for Alabama Graduates (JAG) and Key clubs, were evacuated from the facility and transported to a hazardous materials (hazmat) decontamination tent set up by the Greenville Fire Department.

And while the whole affair was educational for the students involved, the county’s first responders learned much more.

Butler County EMA director Shirley Sandy said that Thursday’s event was a success not only because of the results, but also because the experiment allowed responders wiggle room for improvising when complications naturally arose.

“We were able to see where we excelled, and we were able to see our shortfalls,” Sandy said. “It was fast and easy, but it wasn’t so staged that everybody knew what was going on.  If you have an exercise and it’s perfect, then you’ve failed. 

“Either way, we’re all getting better prepared and better equipped to help Butler County.”

The event began as a means of testing the county’s nursing homes and hospitals, which are required to undergo a certain amount of training exercises each year.

But the scale and scope of the operation soon encompassed the Greenville Fire Department, the Greenville Police Department, Georgiana Health and Rehabilitation, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.

Given the number of responders involved and the level of cooperation required in the event of an actual emergency, Sandy said that the value of such training exercises couldn’t be overstated.

“We need to do more—we’ve been doing little ones here and there, but it’s been good to have the fire department, the police department and hospitals here,” Sandy said.

“We’re all partners in a response, and I want to know who I’m going to work with at 3 a.m. in the event of an actual situation, and it’s the same with them.  We’re all partnering with each other, and learning from each other in the process.”

Michelle Myrick, a specialist with the Greenville High School’s JAG program, said that the exercise was a great experience for her students.

“I thought Mrs. Shirley, the Crowne Health Care staff and the responders were well prepared for the training scenario,” Myrick said.

“They gave the students just enough information to play their role, but not so much that they knew everything that would take place.  Several students said they were pleased to help out with the training, and it was a pretty cool experience.  They have already asked to help her with other activities.”