The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 23, 2013

Responders participate in virtual planning exercise

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Although responders never know exactly what challenges Mother Nature will bring, the City of Beckley is a little more prepared for winter storms after joining in on a Federal Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Management Institute tabletop exercise.

A Virtual Tabletop Exercise, VTTX, was held Tuesday at the UC-Beckley Wiseman Hall, where Beckley joined communities via video-teleconference in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Washington and Virginia to discuss how they prepare and respond to winter storm emergency situations.

Director of Emergency Services for the City of Beckley Kevin Taylor organized the event, hoping to bring representatives from a number of various fields.

“We had an exceptional turnout,” Taylor said. “We had nearly 40 representatives, which is the highest of any site in the nation.”

Individuals from the National Weather Service, Appalachian Power, Beckley Fire Department, Beckley Police Department, Beckley Community Emergency Response Team, Concord University, New River Community and Technical College, Raleigh County Community Action Association, Beckley Water Company, Raleigh General Hospital and more attended the exercise.

“We’ve heard some great ideas,” Taylor said.

He said it was interesting not only to learn from each other internally on ways to improve preparedness, response and recovery, but to learn from other states as well.

During this VTTX, the following winter storm scenario was presented: On Monday, Jan. 21, a winter storm watch is issued, with 6 to 12” of snow expected by Wednesday. On Tuesday, the snow starts to build and the watch is upgraded to a blizzard warning.

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

A series of questions were given to each group, focusing on information dissemination, emergency response, recovery after the fact and preparation in case of an additional event with exhausted resources.

Ideas generated at Beckley included sending out text alerts on college campuses, ensuring back-up power sources are in place, Appalachian Power sending out notices and ordering more manpower, fueling vehicles and putting them in strategic locations, as well as putting the Emergency Operation Center in stand by mode and ready to go into activation mode if necessary.

Although no representatives from the Board of Education or faith based organizations were present, suggestions included utilizing schools and churches for shelters.

For more information on future VTTXs or how to become a part of the Beckley CERT, contact Kevin Taylor at 304-256-0034.

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According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, Beckley could see snow as early as tonight.

Meteorologist Tom Mazza said showers are expected to be a wet snow mixture this afternoon, turning into all snow overnight, with temperatures dipping down to 31 degrees.

Rain and wet snow is also possible Thursday throughout the day and a small chance Thursday night, Mazza said.

Friday will be cold, but dry, with temperatures at a high of 40 and a low of 25.

Mazza expects the weekend will be dry, with slightly warmer temperatures.

As for Halloween, Mazza said it’s a bit soon to tell, but he isn’t predicting a “Frankenstorm” like our region saw last year.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com