The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 24, 2013

Ahead of the game

The City of Beckley’s emergency exercise this week is a good example of not just the effective use of technology to bring together so many experts in a virtual conference hall but also an example of a broader attempt at tapping into expertise nationwide.

The Virtual Tabletop Exercise at UC-Beckley’s Wiseman Hall combined emergency management experts from not just the Appalachians but as far away as Alaska to discuss how different agencies deal with severe winter weather.

Kevin Taylor, director of emergency services for the City of Beckley, organized the event which also drew on the local experience of emergency management officials from the National Weather Service, Appalachian Power, Beckley fire and police departments, Beckley’s Community Emergency Response Team, Concord University, New River Community College and various local hospitals and other agencies.

The scenario was this: How to respond to a winter storm watch on a Monday that forecasts 6 to 12 inches of snow by Wednesday.

Each team in the exercise had to field a series of questions that ranged from getting out word of the potential danger of the situation, to the actual response as the storm raged, as well as recovery after the storm.

Some of the ideas the group came up with included text alerts sent out to local college students, ensuring backup power is available, and pre-positioning emergency service personnel to respond quickly to the worsening storm event. Also, what happens if a second emergency occurs during the initial crisis?

“Weather affects us all and this is a very possible situation we could have,” Taylor said.

A little prevention, as they say, is worth a lot of cure. It seems the City of Beckley is ahead of the game, both in using live videoconferencing to bring together the diverse group of people who shared their ideas, as well as in anticipating potential emergencies before they occur.

The sharing of the kind of knowledge and expertise on display at UC-Beckley is exactly how it should be done. As public resources are stretched here and elsewhere, we need to be reminded that, when we’re faced with a crisis of some sort, there’s a pretty good possibility that someone, somewhere, has already gone through it.

Sharing how that city or state or agency dealt with emergencies can help keep our inevitable emergencies manageable.

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