Disaster drill spans 10 counties throughout state

Emergency management leaders and first responders joined together Thursday to test the new interoperable radio system as part of a 10-county exercise.

The scenario which officials used to test the system’s capabilities centered around a mass evacuation from southern West Virginia via Interstate 79 because of flooding. Temporary shelters were set up in Upshur and Braxton counties to assist those seeking shelter.

“It’s OK to do a tabletop exercise, but it’s better to do it in the real world,” said Pendleton County Office of Emergency Management director Bruce Minor, who served as the Public Information Officer. “We will find what our shortfalls are, and when a (disaster) comes along, we should be better prepared. The more we can exercise, the better off we are.”

Emergency offices from Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Tucker, Randolph, Upshur and Webster counties were supposed to be part of a statewide drill, but state leaders postponed the event. The 10 counties that comprise Region 4 decided to go ahead and stage the exercise on their end.

“We had been planning for this, so we carried through with it,” Minor said. “These people have been training for a long time. Practice makes perfect, and we needed to practice without a disaster.”

The exercise was designed to stress the state’s interoperable radio system, a recently created network which allows various emergency responders to communicate with other agencies and across county lines. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, emergency responders discovered the difficulties in communicating with other agencies because of differing communications equipment and frequencies.

“The state has invested a lot of money into the interoperable radio system,” Minor said. “It seems to be working well. Communication is extremely important in these situations.”