Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DCS Students Conduct Hurricane Exercise at Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Operations

As Hurrivac computer images of Category 3 Hurricane Cathy got closer to South Florida’s coast, Mayor Joel Gracia barked orders at his fellow Dade Christian School students over the telephone. A fire in an evacuation shelters needed to be extinguished and 1,000 people relocated to other shelters in the area. Like now!
Gracia and Emergency Management Director Aliyah Drummond were shouldering the responsibility to supervise Emergency Support Functions (ESFs in emergency management parlance) managed by their classmates – Fire-Fighting, Transportation, Law Enforcement, Urban Search and Rescue, Health and Medical, Food and Water and Mass Care, to name a few – to ensure that the dispossessed people were properly relocated to other shelters and safe from the approaching storm.

“Put the fire out first,” ordered Gracia to Fire-Fighter Team Leader, Brandon Pedrosa. “Then start removing the people,” he directed Transportation Team Leader Dylan Gardner.

As soon as the fire in the evacuation center was resolved, a gasoline truck overturned on a major evacuation route, leaving thousands of motorists stranded and their pets escaping into the adjacent forests. Gas from the truck was spilling all over the road and motorists were overheated and thirsty with tempers flaring. Again, Mayor Gracia had to depend on his ESFs to resolve this perilous situation. “We need to remove the truck, contain the spill and get bottled water out to these people as soon as possible,” he demanded. “Get Hazardous Materials Team Leader Simon Kato, Animal Protection Team leader Emily Gonzalez and Mass Care Team Leader Darian Betancourt on the phone. We need to move fast.”
As Hurricane Cathy gained momentum and continued its perilous trek towards Miami, student meteorologists Emily Gutierrez, Nyah Correa, Rebekah Blanco, Christina Hechavarria  and Donny Pacheco were providing briefings to the student media representing TV and radio stations.

After Cathy’s passage, the situation got even worse. The students faced equally challenging emergencies such as several hundred senior citizens stranded on an island as a result of a tanker crashing into the bridge connecting the island to homeland. ''We've sent boats, helicopters and anything we can,'' said Emergency Management Director Aliyah Drummond.

In the meantime, a hospital was overcrowded with storm victims, medical resources are virtually exhausted and basic water and food provisions was also used up. The hospital was on auxiliary power, making it difficult to perform basic surgical procedures. ESF Health and medical Services led by Team Leader Stephanie Morales took charge, bringing in additional medical staff, surgeons and portable shelters for care for the injured.

Also, parts of their city were virtually underwater from rain and storm surge, with people and their pets perilously stranded on roof tops and dangling from trees. Here Urban Search and Rescue led by Team Leader Bradon Edgecomb were sent out to locate the stranded and transport them to safety.

Seventy DCS students spent Tuesday morning on October 16th at the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management participating in a special hurricane preparedness exercise called StormZone, a Miami-based non-profit program where they planned for and recovered from category 3 Hurricane Cathy.

StormZone, sponsored by Florida International University, the American Red Cross and CBS-4’s Neighbors 4 Neighbors, is a free online hurricane science education and preparedness program offered to public and public and private schools. The program specifically helps students understand the importance of advance preparation when confronted with a natural disaster such as a hurricane. For five years, StormZone has been taught in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County schools throughout hurricane season which ends November 30th.

At the conclusion of the exercise, student Mayor Gracia conducted a press conference to inform student reporters on preparedness measures that were taken before the storm hit and recovery efforts after its passage. The first question asked was, “were any lives lost?” “No” said a relieved Gracia.

“Through this interactive exercise, students learn about emergency management, make the decisions necessary to respond to a disaster in their community and develop a recovery plan,” said Bay Proby, StormZone director.  “This classroom experience also lets students learn about the importance of individual responsibility, organizational collaboration and project management skills when confronted with a hurricane.”


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