City and county stakeholders create communitywide emergency operations plans for residents
Residents of Vilonia, AR, understand the importance of preparedness. In 2011 and 2014, tornadoes ripped through the town, causing extensive damage. The community committed to preparing for the next disaster. “Our tornado season runs from April to June,” said Vilonia Assistant Fire Chief K.C. Williams. “Since the tornadoes in 2011 and 2014 were fresh on all our minds, we could get the community to prepare for their preparedness.”
Organizers of Vilonia's PrepareAthon! included (clockwise from top left) K.C. Williams, Keith Hillman, Casey Williams, and Allin Crawford.
Methods to Their Mayhem
Just eight days after the one-year anniversary of the nearly 200 mile per hour Mayflower/Vilonia Tornado that ravaged their town, the Vilonia Fire Department hosted “Mayhem in May,” a multiagency virtual tabletop exercise at the Conway Expo Center in Conway, AR. This event was one of the more than 23 million registered preparedness actions that took place this year in collaboration with America’s PrepareAthon!
Coordinating with FEMA Region VI, a team of four set to work organizing the exercise and bringing key stakeholders to the table. The team included Assistant Chief Williams and his daughter Casey Williams, who served as an active volunteer following the 2011 and 2014 tornadoes and currently represents Arkansas on the FEMA Region VI Youth Preparedness Council; Vilonia Fire Chief Keith Hillman; and Captain Allin Crawford, firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Vilonia Fire Department.
Every member of their team played an important role in planning the exercise. With a degree in emergency management, Captain Crawford handled the technical side of the exercise, including organizing the scenario and using the America’s PrepareAthon! tabletop resources to present all of the scenario material. Assistant Chief Williams and Chief Hillman organized the public relations and outreach to community partners, and acquired food and beverages to attract more participants. Ms. Williams conducted community outreach, inviting people to participate in the exercise, and educating the community about preparedness.
Practicing the Community Emergency Operations Plan
This exercise focused on implementing an intensive emergency operations plan during the first 24 to 30 hours following a tornado disaster. Participants represented the town’s public and private sectors, as well as voluntary and community-based organizations. This included the Arkansas Department of Human Services and Department of Emergency Management; various city and county officials, such as from the City of Conway Chamber of Commerce, the Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management, Fire Departments in four local towns, the Faulkner County Judge’s Office, the Vilonia City Council, and the Vilonia City Clerk’s office; and local businesses and law enforcement officials.
The Vilonia Fire Department developed a community emergency operations plan during an exercise.
Assistant Chief Williams and his partners asked the participants about their individual emergency operations plans and how they would respond to the scenario given in the exercise. Leading the discussion, he asked, “How do we, as a community, communicate with one another? How do we come together to facilitate safety and recovery in a more efficient manner than we have in the past?”
Participants educated each other about the assets and resources available in the event of a tornado disaster. From those findings, the Fire Department developed a more robust countywide emergency operations plan.
While the participants discussed their individual plans, other community agencies led a live drill to practice Faulkner County Animal Control’s new emergency operations plan. “Now we have a workable plan in the event that we have to care for animals during a natural or manmade disaster,” said Assistant Chief Williams.
In addition, other local businesses that could not attend the exercise practiced their emergency operations plans at a specific time designated by the planning committee.
Enhancing Preparedness Resources and Awareness
“I think the exercise was very effective in opening the eyes of our county to the fact that we have more assets available to us than we thought,” said Assistant Chief Williams. “It really helps to get everyone to look at and recreate their own emergency operations plan.” Following the exercise, the Arkansas Department of Human Services put together a booklet about how to set up a volunteer reception center and manage volunteers in the event of a disaster. The Vilonia Fire Department incorporated that knowledge into its community emergency operations plan.
Additionally, the Vilonia Fire Department developed a class about implementing best preparedness practices, incorporating some FEMA curricula and documentation needed to facilitate a disaster response. Educating residents throughout Central Arkansas about ways to prepare remains a priority.
“Anyone can make a difference,” said Ms. Williams. “One person can reach out to their family about having an emergency preparedness kit or a preparedness plan, and that can save that family. We have a ton of potential, and more youth need to act on that potential.”