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Award-Winning Disaster Simulation Prepares AmeriCorps Members

June 2016

More than 250 AmeriCorps State and VISTA members participate in hands-on disaster simulation  Montana Governor's Office logo

As part of the 2016 Serve Montana Symposium, the Montana Governor’s Office of Community Service partnered with local emergency management, the American Red Cross, and other Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters to conduct a Whole Community Disaster Simulation in Helena, MT. The event occurred on March 11 at Carroll College and coincided with AmeriCorps Week, a nationwide initiative to recognize the commitment of AmeriCorps members for their service to communities.

Image of earthquake disaster simulation
During the hands-on simulation, participants
practiced sheltering in place during a mock
earthquake.

The exercise simulated a magnitude 6.5 earthquake to help more than 250 AmeriCorps State and VISTA members, serving throughout Montana, to understand the roles residents may take and how they would recover using available local community resources.

 As a result of their success, FEMA invited representatives from Montana to travel throughout FEMA Region VIII to train trainers and to host more whole community disaster simulations. The simulation also earned the Ready Montana Program national recognition as recipient of the Fifth Annual John D. Solomon Whole Community Preparedness Award from the 2015 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards.

During the simulation, participants role-played various community characters, including disaster survivors, unaffiliated volunteers, local elected officials, and representatives from disaster response organizations and agencies. The participants learned about the importance of personal preparedness, the difficulty of long-term recovery, and the organizations associated with disaster response.

The simulation continues on as a staple of the symposium, currently in its eighth year. “We wanted the AmeriCorps members to be aware that when a disaster strikes, they have the skills and resources to help others in their communities,” said Ready Montana’s Program Coordinator Betsy Miller.

Image of TV reporter
Local media outlet KTVH, an NBC affiliate network,
got involved as well with broadcasts to Americorps
members acting as news reporters providing briefs
on the simulation.
Participants completed a brief evaluation before and after the simulation. Overall, participants reported an increased understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable populations in meeting basic needs after disasters; organizations and agencies involved in disaster response and recovery; and emotional stresses and frustrations created by navigating disaster recovery. Nearly 90 percent of participants reported that they intend to take one or more actions to increase their personal preparedness, and more than half reported that they intend to make a kit or volunteer with a disaster preparedness organization.

Visit the Serve Montana website for more information about disaster preparedness in the state.