By Mitch Talley Whitfield County Director of Communications
If north Georgia were to be hit by a natural disaster, how would you react?
Most people don’t like to think about how they would answer a question like that.
How public safety officials and leaders at important facilities like hospitals and nursing homes respond after such a disaster, however, could literally mean the difference between life and death for their neighbors.
To help them be better prepared, 87 leaders from 44 facilities/agencies in the nine-county Region A came together last month for a tabletop exercise at the trade center in Dalton.
“We just want to make sure that we are all on the same sheet of music,” Whitfield EMA Director Claude Craig said, “because in a disaster, it’s kind of a zombie-like atmosphere where people really don’t know what to do. They’re kind of in shock, I guess, after a major disaster.”
That means ordinary citizens rely heavily on public safety officials to help them through the recovery phase after a disaster. Those officials need to be as prepared as possible.
That’s where the tabletop exercise comes in. With representatives from the University of Georgia coordinating the activity through the Georgia Hospital Association and the state Department of Public Health, participants divided up by counties and discussed the ways their facilities would likely be able to respond to a disaster.
“It was good to get the agencies in our counties together,” Craig said, “to see how we would react in the unfortunate event of a severe weather strike.”
Local agencies taking part were Whitfield County EMA and 911, Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, Dalton Police Department, Dalton Fire Department, Hamilton EMS, Hamilton Health Care System, North Georgia Healthcare Coalition and the North Georgia Health District.
“Each county at the table had representatives from local law enforcement, fire department, EMA and health care facilities like hospitals and nursing homes on hand,” Craig said. “It was good practice for all of us. It’s proven if you practice it and you train on it, that’s the way you’ll respond to it.”
For the past several months, the group has been meeting regularly to make plans for a full-scale exercise that will be held on May 8, 2014, at an undisclosed location that aims to catch participants off guard to make their response as realistic as possible.
The goal of the tabletop exercise was to discuss how the agencies and facilities would be able to establish communications and respond during a mass casualty incident such as the tornado that severely damaged the hospital in Joplin, Mo.
“We’ll be having an after-action review ... to discuss what we discovered at the tabletop exercise,” Craig said, “and then we’ll head into more planning sessions for the actual full-scale exercise in May.”
Region A includes Whitfield, Catoosa, Walker, Dade, Gordon, Pickens, Gilmer, Fannin and Murray counties.