Archive for Wednesday, April 12, 2006

District plans emergency drill to test response

April 12, 2006

The Tonganoxie public schools are about to give themselves a test.

The district will have a crisis drill at 9 a.m. April 24. All students and staff at the three schools will participate.

The scenario will include an overturned truck and toxic fumes. The district will respond as if the crisis were real, by using buses to evacuate elementary students. The direction of the wind will determine whether junior high and high school students evacuate.

School Superintendent Richard Erickson attended the city's crisis-plan development group meeting last week and told area officials he hoped participants would respond as if it were a real emergency.

"We want our kids to take it seriously," Erickson said. "We want our staff to take it seriously."

Leavenworth County Emergency Management coordinator Chuck Magaha told the group he had reviewed the district's plan and expressed his confidence.

"Dr. Erickson's staff probably has the best plan in the county," Magaha said.

Magaha and Keith Yoder, Kansas City regional coordinator for Kansas Homeland Security, told Erickson they would assist by attending the principals' post-drill debriefing in May.

This was the second meeting of the city's crisis-plan development group. Mayor Dave Taylor began the monthly meetings in March so that city, school and emergency management leaders would be prepared to respond, in the event of a crisis.

Magaha told the group it needed to first identify the potential hazards to the city -- such as tornadoes, flooding, fires or bird flu -- and then develop a response plan.

"Everybody has to understand what their roles are," Magaha said.

Magaha recommended that city leaders start developing Tonganoxie's crisis plan by first reviewing plans from other cities in the county.

"They're all going to be similar," Magaha said. "Look at one such as Basehor's and figure out what works for you."

But, Magaha said, the city should devise its own plan and not just copy another city's.

"That's not the way to go," Magaha said. "That's a mistake."

Magaha said that even after the development of a plan, it could take a year to test it.

He recommended the plan address how the city would relocate its offices to a temporary location, such as Basehor, if a major disaster hit the city.

Velda Roberts, city council president, said she wanted the plan to specify where residents could gather if they had to be evacuated from Tonganoxie, such as churches, businesses and the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds.

She said the plan should be specific.

"We need to know about details as simple as keys -- where they're at and who has them," Roberts said.

Magaha urged city leaders to consider the financial impact a disaster could have and to ensure they understood disaster relief funding requirements and limitations.

"You could easily get hit by a one or two million dollar hit," Magaha said, advocating the city set aside funding to handle emergencies. He said the city might consider an emergency fund that would handle a variety of expenses, such as major snow removal.

Taylor said events covered by the media, including bird flu, had made him realize the city needed to come up with a plan and make sure everyone was aware of it.

"I don't want to scare anyone, but I just want to know what we can do or what we're able to do," Taylor said.

He said leaders needed to make communication a priority.

He said the development of a crisis plan would improve communication among leaders.

"The planning process is going to close your communication gap," Magaha said.

Magaha said he planned to speak with the city council at its meeting Tuesday about offering residents the opportunity to purchase all-hazard weather-alert radios for $29.95 at city hall. He said the radios were also offered by area Price Chopper stores and all residents should consider purchasing one.

The crisis-plan development group plans to meet again May 11.

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