Tahlequah Daily Press

November 15, 2013

Local agencies test disaster communications

By SEAN ROWLEY
TDP Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Taking part in a statewide exercise Thursday, Cherokee County emergency management agencies conducted tests of their communications capabilities during disasters.

The mock disaster simulated flooding and tornadoes in eastern Oklahoma, and a winter storm in the western half of the state.

“Oklahoma has a system called the Web [Emergency Operations Center] for statewide emergency communications, and we test the system once a year,” said Gary Dotson, Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management director. “We want to see how it handles everything.”

Dotson said the WEOC performed well overall, but did crash for less than an hour. He added that the exercise was designed to strain the system.

“We thought it might crash,” Dotson said. “Emergency management teams in 80 percent of the state took part. I suspect the amount of traffic had something to do with it, but we won’t know until the follow-up meeting on Friday.”

Brad Robertson, Tahlequah police officer, said the entire drill was “tabletop.”

“No emergency personnel were actually mobilized,” he said. “This was conducted entirely on computers in operations centers.”

Several agencies were present in the EOC in Tahlequah. When not checking computers, they were circled around a conference table, practicing respective responses and resource allocation.

“We found some weak spots, and we also found where it worked well,” Dotson said. “With this system, we can coordinate our efforts and keep track of the storms as they pass through. Everyone involved worked well together.”

The exercise is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. States and federal agencies much conduct a large-scale exercise and three tabletop exercises each year.

“By conducting this drill statewide, we are able to classify it as a large-scale, or full, exercise,” Dotson said.

Dotson said Cherokee County “is blessed” with several agencies that can help during a disaster, whether natural or man-made.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how many resources we have,” he said. “Actually, this exercise helped us realize there are even more resources which we can use. Northeastern State University has some assets we didn’t even now about. There are agencies ready to help, and now we know to ask.”

Agencies taking part included Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management, Tahlequah Police Department, Northeastern State University police, Cherokee County Health Department, Sequoyah County Emergency Management, Tahlequah Public Works Authority, the Oklahoma Department of Health and the American Red Cross.

“I think we’re going to get a good report on our operations here,” Dotson said. “Cherokee County has a lot of first responders who are dedicated and take pride in their talents.

“It makes life a lot easier, if there is such a thing during a disaster.”