Emergency response teams from across the state were in Sedalia on Tuesday to help fake victims of a fake earthquake as part of a National Mass Care Series Exercise.
From Monday through Wednesday, teams are testing plans for evacuating and sheltering potential victims of a New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquake. The zone, located in New Madrid, Missouri, in the southern part of the state, has not produced a major earthquake since 1812, but the exercises are meant to help responders be prepared in case another ever occurs.
“What I understand is that they have been able to look back, digging in the ground, and they think it goes off in a big event once every 250 years,” said Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Management Agency Director Dave Clippert. “Now will that happen like that, no one really knows, the thing about earthquakes is there is no warning. A big quake happens, then a large number of aftershocks after that. It is more we needed to put a plan together and understand what we are facing with this … This is the ground floor, it will go on for a number of years adding on to (the plan).”
On Tuesday, the Missouri State Fairgrounds served as an Emergency Respite Site since Sedalia is located along U.S. Highway 50, which is considered the northern primary evacuation route. These types of sites provide snacks and water, fuel and basic vehicle repair, basic medical care and short-term rest to continue the evacuation process.
Tuesday’s scenario was this: a 7.7-magnitude earthquake from the New Madrid Zone in New Madrid hit Saturday, forcing upwards of 500,000 people to evacuate using Highway 50. Major damage was sustained in St. Louis and citizens were making their way to Kansas City. Tuesday in Sedalia was day three of the earthquake’s aftermath.
Clippert served as the Incident Commander as an exercise took place with dozens of emergency responders, nurses and doctors and law enforcement taking their places on the fairgrounds to help “victims” who were driving into Sedalia, each with a different scenario to read to the volunteers who then directed them to the correct station. Scenarios ranged from a bus full of people who needed food and water to a young family of four with their dog and one of the children was injured.
“I think it went very well for the first time setting it up and operating it,” Clippert said Tuesday afternoon. “A lot of people there didn’t know what they were going to do when they got here (Tuesday) or what the concept was. A nice small exercise, gave us a lot of ways we can go back now and redo those plans to make them more efficient.”
Clippert and his team began planning in January. SPCEMA was joined Tuesday by volunteers from the Pettis County Ambulance District, Pettis County Health Center, Johnson County EMA, and people from different EMA and public health agencies across the state. Henry County provided a communications trailer, the disaster medical team stayed after the Missouri State Fair to participate in the exercise, and there were even observers from Florida and Nevada to watch how Sedalia was handling the exercise. FEMA officials were also on hand to observe.
Show-Me Mass Care is the fifth exercise in a National Mass Care Series Exercise and, according to Clippert, the first to take place in a non-coastal region. It also marks the first time Missouri has simulated how the state will respond in the days following an earthquake; in the past, Missouri has only exercised how to respond to the immediate aftermath in southeast Missouri, according to a Missouri Department of Public Safety news release.
The exercise continues Wednesday in Independence at the Silverstein Eye Arena, which is considered an Evacuee Reception Center. The news release states these centers receive evacuees in a location with a range of government and private sector resources and have the ability to fully assess needs and direct evacuees to appropriate shelter locations. Clippert said Wednesday’s exercise will be much bigger than Tuesday’s in Sedalia.
Part of the scenario included testing FEMA’s National Mass Evacuation Tracking System (NMETS). Members from Jackson County EMA were assigned to scanning bracelets given to “victims” and asking their names, plugging them into NMETS.
“This was the first time Missouri had used it,” Clippert explained. “… It was tested (Monday) in Poplar Bluff. The main thing (Tuesday) was to see if their phone app worked and it did, (volunteers) were able to scan off their phones. Then they’ll take that (Wednesday), scan it into the system and be able to say this is where this person was and when.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.