Like a hurricane: Exercise prepares post for storm season
May 28, 2009
FORT JACKSON -- As Steve Palmer waited inside the Joe E. Mann Center Friday, the concern on his face intensified.
A hurricane was coming, and he hadn't heard from his 19-year-old daughter who was attending a friend's graduation nearby. The roads were closed, and when Palmer, his wife and mother-in-law made it to a shelter a couple of hours later, he had grown only more worried.
"I thought she would be here by now, but she hasn't made it," said Palmer, who lost a family member the last time a hurricane hit. "Really, not knowing is the bad part."
Palmer was one of several Red Cross volunteers and Soldiers "seeking" shelter on Fort Jackson last week as part of its emergency shelter exercise. And his was but one of a plethora of scenarios aimed at making sure the post is equipped to handle evacuees in the case of a hurricane or other emergency situation.
Friday's exercise was the second day of a two-day training in which 30 officers and noncommissioned officers participated. The first day consisted of classroom training, while the second day, trainees were on-hand to observe operations.
Jo An Miller, Red Cross senior station manager, said the scenarios were intended to imitate how Soldiers and other employees would handle different issues in an emergency situation.
Miller observed the operations, which followed the Red Cross shelters' standard operating procedures, from start to finish.
Miller said that in addition to Palmer's scenario, Soldiers and Red Cross volunteers played several roles, including: People who left home with no money or identification, those with medical issues, and even 10-year-old boy (played by a Soldier) who was "dumped' at the shelter by his mother.
NEW CENTER A ONE-STOP SHOP
Using scenarios like Palmer's contributed to the success of the exercise, said Patricia Guillory, Army Community Service mobilization and deployment program manager. The Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation was responsible for operating the Family Assistance Center - a new addition to this year's shelter operations.
"This is the most real one we've ever had," she said, contributing its realistic nature to the fact that neither she, nor the participating FAC agencies, had prior knowledge of the scenarios they would be facing. "I think it was good that they used outside volunteers to test our knowledge."
She added, "Today we found out every kink that would cause us not to be successful."
The Family Assistance Center, or FAC, is a central meeting place for those seeking shelter or other help in the event of the emergency. In addition to assigning people to shelters, representatives from various on-post agencies were on hand to provide assistance.
"The FAC is a one-stop shop for anybody in an emergency," said Guillory. "We are the hub -- the nerve -- for the operation. Everyone comes here to get what they need."
Veterinary services, the ID card section, chaplain, Red Cross, Army Emergency Relief, MEDDAC, legal and social work services were among those set up to help those in need. Tables with children's books, information and referral, crisis intervention information and shelter registration were also set up.
In the event of an actual emergency, Guillory said, the garrison would decide whether it was necessary to initiate the shelters. Once FMWR gets that call, she said, the FAC and shelter must be up and running within three hours.
Although it was an exercise, Guillory said the FAC was set up as though it was actually operating. The center had working phone and internet lines, and was even able to make an actual military ID for a volunteer portraying someone who misplaced theirs.
"It will eliminate a lot of headaches for the families," she said.
John Coynor, force protection officer, said the main purpose of the FAC is to be a central location for any evacuees to meet.
"We don't want people to go (straight) to the shelters," he said. 'They come here (and) we have all of the subject matter experts here to help them with whatever they need."
In a real emergency, those seeking shelter would come to the FAC (set up at the Joe E. Mann Center) to register. The first stop is information and referral, where ACS employees speak with those seeking shelter and refer them to the appropriate agency for help, if needed. After signing up for shelter, the person would then be directed to his or her designated shelter.
"We take care of all their needs here," Coynor said.
The Floyd Spence Reserve Center, located at the northern end of Jackson Boulevard, has been converted into a shelter.
Posters line the walls to inform the center's temporary residents of each day's schedule. A table, manned by a Soldier with the Soldier Support Institute, sits right inside the doorway.
After those seeking shelter drop off their paperwork, the Soldier asks whether there are any medical needs that should be addressed. A medic is on-hand to screen those coming into the shelter before they are whisked to their rooms.
There are separate rooms for men, women, senior citizens and families. Although not set up Friday, another room will serve as a nursery, where cots sit next to desks that mark where cribs would be set up. Assigned to each room is a Soldier responsible for monitoring it.
Down the hallway, an open room is the designated kitchen, where the meals will be served, with a corner set aside for televisions and video games.
Capt. Michelle Bridegroom, shelter officer-in-charge, said instituting the FAC makes things easier for evacuees when they make it to the shelter.
"That is a huge improvement," she said. "They're really taking care of a lot of things. In a disaster, there are so many issues you just have to think outside the box."
Despite using the Red Cross SOP, Coynor stressed that it is not a Red Cross shelter.
"This is a Fort Jackson shelter," he said. Even so, he said, it is not only for use by Soldiers and their families.
"We're not going to turn anybody away. Fort Jackson does not turn away anyone seeking help."
Though Coynor said there were a few kinks during the exercise, he thought it went well.
"Believe me, if you don't find problems at an exercise, you're wasting your time," he said.
The purpose of the exercise is to find and address any issues, he added.
"I'm confident if we had to do this next week, it would be great," he said.