At approximately 8:00 a.m., on October 9, 2019, a soft buzz began to hum in the air as emergency service radios came alive and officials began to arrive at the Stark County Emergency Services Office. The Southwestern District Health Unit, in coordination with St. Benedict’s Health Center, St. Luke’s Home, CHI St. Alexius, Sanford Health, ABLE Inc., Dickinson Ambulance Service, Dickinson Fire Department, Dickinson Police Department, Stark County Sheriff’s Office and other supporting agencies, conducted a full-scale disaster training throughout the county.
The purpose of such wide-scale emergency preparation training evolution, as Stark County Director of Emergency Services, Bill Fahlsing, put it, to “refine our processes.”
“The training is a great opportunity to bring together representatives from agencies that work together during disasters into the Emergency Operations Center,” Falhsing said. “Doing this during an exercise allows us to simulate a disaster and identify areas that we excel in, but also areas that we can improve and refine our processes.”
The scenario was one that Dickinson is all too familiar with. At 9:15 a.m., a “tornado” hit Dickinson, causing major damage to the city and taking out a nursing home. Just before 9:30 a.m., representatives of the Dickinson Police Department, Dickinson Fire Department and EMS established a Unified Command, effectively making the Dickinson Emergency Operation Center into the Incident Command Post for the catastrophe. This unification allows the various independent heads of each department, along with Fahlsing, to organize information and manage resources throughout the city as one collective group.
The Unified Command also serve as a liaison between the public and elected officials, allowing information to flow properly throughout the disaster.
Around 9:40 a.m., reports began to roll into the command center from the scene of the crisis — although firefighters were battling fires throughout the city, the tornado had caused a major leak in the water tower and water pressure was falling dangerously low. At this point, the strategic elements came alive.
Immediately, the team of department officials began their process, allocating resources through a county-wide chain of command until the problem was solved.
“Every exercise conducted provides us with information that allows us to better prepare for the response and coordination to an actual event,” Fahlsing said.
One of the major issues of the day was correspondence.
"I think probably the thing we always have challenges with — I don't care what exercise or scenario — is still communication,” said Sherry Adams of the Southwest District Health Unit. “We continue to practice and plan. (Although) communications always seems to be an issue, we still get things done as we need to,”
Emergency Medical Technician, Kacie Kostelecky, noticed the troubles surrounding the flow of information from her position on the ground.
“Initially, (the biggest struggle) was with communications with our radios, but we did talk to somebody that was head of communications and we figured out what radio channel to be on,” she said.
Referencing the communication issues, Lieutenant Eldon Mehrer of the Stark County Sheriff’s Department, offered a valuable lesson.
“Regardless of how much you try to preplan for something, it helps to identify where the chinks in your armor are,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office saw the training evolution as a positive, something that could be built upon for future real-world situations.
“It’s always great to get together with the players that would be involved in a real life incident,” Mehrer said. “So that you recognize the faces and people who will be part of that team when the real thing happens. (This is) so you don’t have to establish those relationships when something serious is happening.”