Local emergency plan put to test

  • Northampton Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine, left, addresses about two dozen people taking part in a tabletop exercise facilitated by Tracy Rogers, standing, of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. The session was part of a full scale shelter exercise conducted by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton on Thursday, April 19, 2018. About 200 people took part in the day-long exercise which was funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan Nietsche, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, was the event manager for a full scale shelter exercise conducted by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton on Thursday, April 19, 2018. About 200 people took part in the day-long exercise which was funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine takes part in a full scale shelter exercise conducted by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton on Thursday, April 19, 2018. About 200 people took part in the day-long exercise which was funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ware Deputy Fire Chief Edward Wloch takes part in a tabletop exercise during Thursday’s daylong shelter exercise conducted by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Robert Laford of the University of Massachusetts Office of Emergency Management takes part in a tabletop exercise included in a full scale shelter exercise conducted by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton on Thursday, April 19, 2018. About 200 people took part in the day-long exercise which was funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Barbara Hopson, center, the animal shelter manager at H.E.A.R.T. animal rescue, speaks to an audience of UMass Amherst students about how to crate animals during an emergency at a shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Vocational High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Donald Cawrse, center right, a Disaster Services representative of the American Red Cross, speaks to a group of UMass Nursing students about maintaing emergency shelter beds at a shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Vocational High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Barbara Hopson, center, the animal shelter manager at H.E.A.R.T. animal rescue, speaks to an audience of UMass Amherst students about how to crate animals during an emergency at a shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Vocational High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Maddie Valle, center, a Medical Reserve Corps. volunteer and student at UMass Amherst, attempts to fold a medical bed at a shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Vocational High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Bobi Steingart, right, of the American Red Cross, teaches University of Massachusetts nursing student Alexandra Hickey how to break down a medical bed at an emergency shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Barbara Hopson, center, the animal shelter manager at H.E.A.R.T. animal rescue, speaks to an audience of UMass Amherst students about how to crate animals during an emergency at a shelter exercise organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Vocational High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

For the Gazette
Published: 4/19/2018 9:03:21 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Taking advantage of spring recess, area officials staged an emergency shelter exercise Thursday at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

Organizers based the exercise around a tornado scenario, but Dan Nietsche, a program organizer and emergency preparedness coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, said its scope was broader and more general.

“It could be legos falling from the sky, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “The scenario doesn’t drive the process.”

The goal of the exercise was to the test the latest Hampshire County Regional Shelter Plan, which was drafted in 2016 by the security council.

“This gives us the opportunity to re-examine the 2016 plan, look for holes and fill in the gaps,” Nietsche said.

Representatives from 15 emergency response organizations were on hand for the exercise, which was organized by the Hampshire County Regional Shelter Management Team and funded by the Western Region Homeland Security Council.

About 90 of the roughly 200 participants were senior University of Massachusetts nursing students.

Ann Becker, a public health nurse and member of the UMass program’s faculty, said emergency preparedness is part of the program’s curriculum, and that seniors participate in one large, emergency-related exercise each spring.

“It’s part of our long term goal that some of our students go and become volunteers and engage with communities wherever they end up,” Becker said.

Participants began the day by rotating among several different workshops and presentations. Topics ranged from best sheltering practices to caring for vulnerable populations.

Officials then transitioned into the exercise portion of the event, setting up a mock shelter in the school’s cafeteria.

Participants took turns walking through the registration process and setting up cots, while medical officials worked to treat other participants who were assigned hypothetical symptoms.

Officials from the Hampshire Emergency Animal Response Team demonstrated the procedure for registering and caring for animals, using an employee’s dog as an example.

HEART director Lawrence Holmberg said he hopes people are aware that there are resources in place for pets during times of emergency.

“People often won’t evacuate because they don’t want to leave their pets behind, putting themselves and responders in danger,” Holmberg said. “We want people to know that they can go with you.”

Holmberg said that after Hurricane Katrina, state and federal legislation was put in place requiring communities to have resources in place for sheltering and evacuating animals. Local officials have been “very progressive” and cooperative on the issue of animal care, Holmberg said.

The exercise also served as a networking opportunity for local officials, giving them the opportunity to build relationships that could be useful in coordinating responses to real emergencies, Nietsche said.

“It’s always good to get everyone on board and to promote better cooperation,” Northampton Fire Chief Duane Nichols said, adding that opportunities to practice emergency response with other organizations are rare.

Robert Picard, the state care chief for the American Red Cross, said he thought the exercise was timely and effective.

“The Red Cross is increasingly sharing shelter work with other organizations, so I think this has been a great opportunity for us to share our expertise with local emergency responders and to build relationships with them,” he said.

The highest-ranking members of many of the organizations on hand also attended a “command staff” session, where there was an open discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the county’s emergency shelter plan.

Other organizations represented at the exercise included the Amherst, Easthampton and Ware fire departments, the Hampshire County House of Correction, the Medical Reserve Corps, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

All participants were invited to fill out an evaluation after the exercise, and an after action report and improvement plan will be put together by the regional homeland security council, Nietsche said.


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