Weather exercise tests readiness
March 15, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- When tornado sirens sounded on Fort Leonard Wood Tuesday, Soldiers on Range 5 didn't hesitate.
In less than five minutes, the Soldiers in Company C, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment were shut inside the cluster of safe sheds on the range.
Their reaction to the siren was one of many examples of Soldiers and civilians who participated in Fort Leonard Wood's Severe Weather Warning Exercise, part of the Missouri Statewide Severe Weather Drill.
For Spc. Sarah Norkiewicz, Company C, 3-10 Inf. Bn., the tornado drill was her first ever.
"I've never experienced tornado drills like this because I'm from Massachusetts," Norkiewicz said.
Getting inside an 8- by 10- by 8-feet tornado shelter with 13 other Soldiers and waiting for the "all-clear" signal was intimidating, she said.
"It was nerve-wracking making sure that everyone got where they needed to be," she said.
"It was dark in there and some people were nervous and scared; some were a little claustrophobic," she added. "It got really hot."
However, she added that taking part in the drill made her feel more confident about responding to real tornados in the future.
"I think that definitely helped prepare us. If there was a real one, I'd feel a lot more comfortable, knowing what to do and how it's going to be and what it's going to be like," she said.
Staff Sgt. Kelly Ellerbe, a drill sergeant for Company C, 3-10 Inf. Bn., ensured all 17 of the shelters on Range 5 were shut before taking shelter himself.
He said the drill left him with "a lot to think about … as far as making sure all of my Soldiers are in the sheds before I even get in them."
Ellerbe said going through a drill like this one will help Soldiers understand the importance of reacting to a real tornado warning. "They'll take it more seriously," he said.
This year marked the first time that firing ranges were included in the annual Severe Weather Warning Exercise, according to Troy Carney, Fort Leonard Wood's emergency manager.
The inclusion was timely, especially since Range 5 was one of the areas on post hit by an EF3 tornado on New Year's Eve in 2010.
"The purpose of the drill was to basically increase the awareness of everyone on the installation, of the hazards that exist in this area on the installation, and to make them feel more comfortable that if something does happen, they're prepared to handle it and deal with it," Carney said.
Carney estimated that about half of the installation participated in the drill, from Soldiers and civilians in offices and classrooms to shoppers inside the commissary and Post Exchange. Those inside buildings took shelter in basements or interior rooms.
Observers monitored the response throughout the installation, and will provide comments for the event's After Action Review, which will be used to determine the community's strengths and weaknesses in responding to an emergency weather event.
"We will be getting our AAR comments by the end of the week and will be doing a forum (AAR) probably in the next two weeks, and we'll take the gaps and pluses and minuses that we find, out of the AAR comments, and work on our action plan from that," he said.
He added that, if Range 5 was any indicator, many of the comments will be positive ones.
"I think we're taking great strides to get where we need to be," he said.