Creative problem solving, collaboration made emergency management exercises a successMay 30, 2022 05:39PM ● By Bill Hardesty
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
Salt Lake County Emergency Management (SLCo EM) directed a Joint Information Center (JIC) functional exercise on May 12. The exercise brought together 23 Public Information Officers (PIO) from various agencies across Salt Lake Valley.
The players came from Herriman City, Midvale City, Murray City, Taylorsville City, Bluffdale City, Holladay City, Millcreek City and West Jordan City. From Salt Lake County, the players came from several Salt Lake County departments, including Arts and Culture, Health, Mayor’s office, Public Works Operations, Aging and Adult Services, District Attorney’s office, Sheriff, Parks and Recreation and Regional Development. Salt Lake City Fire Department also played. From the private sector, Rocky Mountain Power played.
Twenty-five exercise helpers assisted with the exercise. From the state, there were employees from the Division of Emergency Management, Department of Health and Human Services, Utah Transit Authority and Department of Environmental Quality. In addition, numerous members of the Salt Lake County Emergency management participated. From the private sector, representatives from Fox 13 News, KUTV 2 News, and the City Journals participated in the news conference part of the exercise.
“As part of the exercise, the PIOs will have to conduct a press conference with actual representatives such as fire chiefs, police chiefs, etc.,” Tina Brown, PIO SLCo EM, said. “The exercise is designed to mimic a real-life scenario the PIOs will have to work through, including answering media calls and releasing public information. I thought this could be a great opportunity for a story since many of the participants signed up are the PIOs for many of the local municipalities and agencies in Salt Lake County.”
Chet Ellis, SLCo Deputy Emergency Manager/Operations Section chief, lead the effort from design to execution to Mop Up. Ellis is completing the Master Exercise Practitioner Program from Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). After two years of onsite and online training, this exercise was his capstone project.
Ellis and Brown were the exercise controls.
“The main reason we do these exercises is to test the system,” Ellis told the group.
The exercise scenario centered around an active shooter and an explosion at the theaters in The District. The exercise was played in real-time plus 12 hours. In other words, while the exercise started at 9 a.m., the scenario began at 9 p.m.
Before the exercise began, the timeline was that a 911 call was received at 8:30 p.m. of shots fired at the theaters. At 8:35, SLCo EM started to monitor the situation. An explosion is reported at 8:38. At 8:40, SLCo EM staff and support staff received an AlertSense message. The message told them to report to the SLCo EM Center. This is the same way in real life. AlertSense messages are used to ramp up the SLCo EM Center.
At 8:45, social media erupted with messages asking for facts and voicing concerns for loved ones. Local TV started live coverage at 8:48. By 8:55, the Emergency Support Function (ESF) had arrived and received their initial briefing.
Clint Mecham, SLCo director of emergency management, told the group about the 2020 Magna earthquake. In the Operations Center, there was 185 ESF staff working on issues like evacuating Magna because of a HazMat leak at Kennecott.
At 9, the exercise started.
All PIOs choose an Incident Commander/Lead PIO. They selected West Jordan Officer Sam Winkler. He quickly organized the others into groups according to their expertise and experience.
A call center was staffed to take calls. Social media was monitored to knock down rumors and supply valid information. The media was managed as they sought information in many ways.
An area called the “SimCell” was a separate room. In the SimCell, volunteers made phone calls to the call center seeking information about loved ones at the theater. Others made media calls. In addition, SimCell would provide scenario information or throw the JIC a curveball.
“One issue we found is our call center numbers don’t roll,” Ellis said. “We need to get this fixed.”
Instead of calling one published number and rolling to a free person, SimCell people had to try a variety of numbers to get through.
“The exercise is going really well,” Brown said. “Some tech issues, but this is why we test.”
The scenario ended with a press conference at midnight. Again, members of the JIC had to prepare talking points and brief press conference presenters.
“They did a great job. They prepped the speakers,” Chief Justin Hoyal, Unified Police Department, said during the Mop Up session. “They wanted to make sure we are all on the same page.”
A Mop Up was held after the exercise. Exercise observers and key players provided feedback.
“Everyone took their roles seriously, and they stayed within their role,” Officer Winkler said. “They all worked together.”
“The players are coming up with creative solutions. It is always good when there is creativity is an exercise,” Ellis said.