“All-hands-on-deck” Effort Draws 90,000, Wins Award for Whole Community Tornado Safety Drill
On March 11, 2015, Spartanburg County, SC—the fourth largest county in the State—rolled out a sweeping community-wide outreach effort in collaboration with America’s PrepareAthon!SM to encourage residents, businesses, schools, and employees to simultaneously conduct tornado safety drills.
The results of this coordinated effort, led by the county’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), speak for themselves. Participants of Spartanburg County’s PrepareAthon! included 50,000 students, staff, and faculty from Spartanburg County K–12 schools, and 40,000 residents and businesses, which also included the 9,000 employees of the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and 1,000 employees of the Mary Black Hospital System.
“This is the greatest effort we have undertaken to promote a community drill,” said Doug Bryson, director of Spartanburg County’s OEM. “We targeted businesses, schools, industry, hospitals, and our residents to increase participation in a preparedness activity on the same day.” As a result of the community-wide participation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded Spartanburg County’s OEM the fifth annual John D. Soloman Whole Community Preparedness Award.
Spreading the Word
The day before the drill, Spartanburg County’s OEM encouraged residents and businesses to sign up and stay tuned to the county’s CodeRED emergency notification system. CodeRED allows emergency response teams to send critical community alerts, including evacuation notices, bio-terrorism alerts, and missing child reports via mobile phones during emergency situations.
The county’s CodeRED system sent informational reminders via phone, email, and social media to all subscribers. The CodeRED system made more than 90,000 phone calls, emailed almost 2,000 people, and reached more than 10,000 people via social media. As a result of the calls, an additional 700 residents self-registered for the notification system.
Employees from Solvay USA, Inc. participated in their own tornado drill on March 11, 2015 at their plant.
During the weeks leading up to Spartanburg County’s PrepareAthon!, several organizations worked to encourage business and community participation.
More than 1,000 members of Spartanburg County’s Community Emergency Response Team conducted community outreach, and Spartanburg’s OEM partnered with the CBS affiliate WSPA-TV to promote the event.
Employers Engage in Tornado Drills
A Spartanburg County business, Solvay USA, Inc., participated in a companywide tornado drill in tandem with the citywide drill. “Our top priority is sending everybody home safely every day, and we really mean that,” said Brad Balint, the company’s plant manager. “People should make sure they are acting at home the same way they act at work.”
At the time of the community drill, Spartanburg County’s OEM personnel triggered the county’s tornado sirens.
Hospital Systems Mobilize Staff and Patients
The drill also included a full-scale hospital exercise. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) and Mary Black Hospital System performed a test notification alert to employees, activating the main hospital emergency operations center. The staff performed physical drills, going through established emergency response protocols and performing tasks and response activities as if it were a live event. The staff communicated with in-residence hospital patients, notifying them that for their safety they would be relocated to interior rooms or the basement should a real event occur.
“The PrepareAthon! exercise provided our organization an opportunity to reorient our entire staff to the dangers of tornadoes and how to best prepare and respond to them,” said Jeff Straub, with SRHS Emergency Management. “Our healthcare organization has learned a great deal from other unfortunate events around the country, such as in Joplin, MO, Tuscaloosa, AL, and Moore, OK, where hospitals took direct hits from tornadoes. We must all be prepared so we can continue to care for our community and our workforce.”
Teachers and students at Boiling Springs Elementary participated in one of many year-round drills during Spartanburg County's PrepareAthon! on March 11, 2015.
Students Practice, Practice, Practice Preparedness
Students in the public school district also participated in Spartanburg County’s PrepareAthon! At Boiling Springs Elementary School, administrators video-recorded tips at different locations in the school to remind students of things to think about during a tornado drill. “We recorded quick tips,” said Principal Michelle Kimbrell, “and emailed the video along with a website to teachers as tools they can reference during discussions with their students. We also encouraged students to go home and have similar discussions with their parents.”
This drill, which coincided with South Carolina’s Severe Weather Awareness Week and statewide Tornado Drill, was one of many for Spartanburg County students. “All of our schools practice all sorts of drills on a regular basis and cover the procedures with students all the time” said Cathy McMillan, District One Schools public information officer.