County, towns plan for emergencies

“Practice the way you play,” is the mantra the Ennis Mustang football team lives by and it’s fitting of Madison County’s first responders and other local agencies when it comes to emergency and disaster preparedness, as well.

Last week, the Madison Valley Medical Center organized a mass casualty training exercise and the American Red Cross brought a preparedness program to Sheridan. Participants at the hospital were the leadership team of department managers, auxiliary personnel and a nursing department staff member. There was also participation from Ennis Schools, Ennis Ambulance, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Department of Emergency Services, and Madison County Communication Office.

“One of our goals is school safety for students, so we felt this was a good opportunity to practice our evacuation procedures,” John Overstreet, Ennis Superintendent, said of the training exercise in Ennis.

In addition to first responder class students acting the part of victims, Overstreet said everyone at the school participated because they ran the school’s earthquake drill. The school also used its phone alert system to notify parents ahead of time about the drill.

“I was one of two dispatchers assisting in the 911 center,” Steve DiGiovanna, Communications Coordinator, said. “Janet Fortner was the other. We were both kept quite busy with the drill as well as other law enforcement needs.”

DiGiovanna added that the communication officers need to be well versed in all types of situations and scenarios, as well as who to dispatch and notify for every kind of call imaginable while situations still arise that can be new, challenging, and unusual.

Madison County agencies responded in accordance with the county’s earthquake protocols. Doug Skillman of Madison Valley Medical Center said the important aspects of the training were exercising incident command procedures, communications both within the hospital and to and from supporting agencies, and responding to the receipt of mass casualties.

“This is the first exercise of this magnitude in more than six years,” Skillman said. “A robust training exercise schedule is being developed that will result in full-scale exercises of this nature being conducted as often as every other year.”

Each agency and department that took part used the training to reflect on what went well and which areas need improvement. Chris Mumme, Director of Emergency Management Services said his department tries to have at least three training exercises a year, but they are more table top exercises such as active shooter in the courthouse, dam failure at Madison Dam and a major earthquake in Madison County. He added that information pulled from these exercises will be used for updating annexes in the Emergency Operations Plan.

“With this drill, we learned that our old gym does not have an alarm system or intercom to warn of drills and emergencies,” Overstreet said.

Ennis Police Chief Scott Newell said the more realistic the training, like the mass casualty exercise, the better the performance during an actual crisis. Newell said the exercise was the first for Reserve Police Officer David MacKenzie.

Getting ready for a disaster or emergency does not fall solely on first responders and government agencies. Individuals and families need to prepare themselves for possible disaster too, as was iterated at the Get Ready, Sheridan emergency preparedness event. A crowd of about 20 people gathered to learn what is needed in an emergency kit, what plans their homes need, and what they can count on the county, first responders, and other agencies to help them with.

Christine Durham, Public Health Nurse, assured the crowd that her office works closely with many of the other offices in the county. She said Madison County was lucky because it has so far not had an outbreak of whooping cough like its neighbors. Durham credits that to a well-vaccinated population. In cases of disease outbreaks, her office is prepared to administer vaccines and medicine to the entire population of Madison County.

“We have plans for everything,” Durham said, including what would happen if there was an influx of people from a disaster elsewhere in the region.

For more information about how to prepare for an emergency or disaster, visit http://www.redcross.org/mt/billings/programs-services/preparedness.

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