By Carol Vaughn —
A dozen local agencies exercised their skills in an emergency operations drill Wednesday at Accomack County’s new Emergency Operations Center.
The exercise introduced the new facility to agency representatives who, during a real emergency, will be stationed there to coordinate response.
The drill reacquainted participants with emergency procedures and gave a chance to discuss and work out potential kinks before a real crisis arises.
Around 17 people from agencies including law enforcement, schools, social services, VDOT, ANEC, the health department, and others are in the EOC during a state of emergency.
Charles R. Pruitt, Accomack County Director of Public Safety, called the new facility “a much needed project,” noting the former EOC in Accomac was cramped and lacked shower facilities.
“For many years we made it work,” he said, noting during Hurricane Sandy the EOC was staffed for three days.
The new facility has four large-screen televisions for keeping up with reports; cabinets for equipment storage; dry erase boards; two radio systems; classroom tables with electrical outlets and a telephone with separate extension for each person; IT connections to the county network; a kitchenette; a shower; and a generator.
Pruitt led the simulation, in which attendees had to decide how to respond to a half dozen 911 calls stemming from a winter storm and a deep freeze gripping the Shore, with 6 to 8 inches of wet snow.
“Today is Dec. 23 and we are in the midst of a winter freeze,” Pruitt announced to start the drill.
The region is under a state of emergency, meaning the Emergency Operations Center has been activated.
“Your position in the EOC is an important position,” Pruitt told participants, adding, “You’re in here because our system is taxed. Today when we do the scenario we want you to think that way.”
For the next two hours, participants had to say how they would respond to six calls for help related to the storm — ranging from electrical outages and a tree blocking a roadway to a multi-vehicle crash on Route 13 and a call for food delivery and medical assistance from iced-in Tangier.
A Department of Public Safety employee was stationed at the rear of the room, taking the simulated 911 calls, with response needs quickly adding up as the calls continued to come in.
Pruitt every so often summarized the situation and detailed how multiple needs were being responded to.
“In a real event, these six scenarios could take up to eight hours,” he said.
Jeff Flournoy, Eastern Shore 911 Center director, noted that during Tropical Storm Isaias more than 100 calls came in during a short period.
Participants agreed the COVID-19 pandemic complicates response to the simulated winter storm or any other emergency because of social distancing and other requirements.
For example, during the pandemic, emergency shelters will operate at around 1/3 their normal capacity due to social distancing and residents coming in to a shelter will have to be screened for the virus and isolated if positive.
“We need to think well in advance….What resources are we going to need here on the Shore? What about your staff? How is COVID impacting what we have to do? Are we going to have enough PPE?” Pruitt said.