Emergency Drill for Vulnerable Groups

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – An emergency drill on Wednesday helped multiple agencies practice an evacuation plan for the region’s most vulnerable populations.

The exercise is part of a plan that Benton County has been planning for the last six years: a plan that helps vulnerable populations evacuate the area in case of an earthquake, a storm, flooding, or other emergency situations. The County says during emergencies, it can be difficult for certain people to evacuate: those who might have mobility issues, cognitive disabilities, and those who have sight or hearing impairments. On Wednesday, the County practiced its existing plan to test its abilities to help these groups.

Many agencies participated in the drill, including but not limited to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, the Corvallis Fire Department, the Benton County Health Department, Oregon State University, and the Corvallis Police Department.

“This exercise today is one of the first in the state, and our plan – our vulnerable populations plan – is one of the most mature plans in the state,” said Erik Rau, the Emergency Services Planner for the Benton County Sheriff’s Department and the Corvallis Fire Department. “It will not only help the agencies in the area be better prepared, but other jurisdictions can learn from them as well.”

The agencies set up an evacuation shelter in a dining hall at OSU, where actors arrived during the simulation. If there was an actual emergency situation, other agencies from surrounding counties could respond, as they did on Wednesday.

“It’s great to see that the County and the cities and agencies have invested the time and energy and resources to actually conduct an exercise like this,” said Jenny Damaris, the Emergency Manager for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office located in Newport. “The most important thing that agencies can do is practice a scenario. And then when it happens, they’re falling back on the memory of what we learned, what worked well, and how we can improve it the next time.”

Demaris helped evaluate the drill, measuring how participating agencies established the shelter, how they opened it, and how it was operated.

“The wealth of information and the practice that they’re going to get is going to ensure that if six hours down the road or six months down the road that if something of this nature happens, that the agencies in Benton County are going to have an imprinted memory of what we did in this exercise.”

Oregon State University says the County has a list of possible places for evacuation spots – and for Wednesday’s drill – the campus was used.

“We have a lot of resources on campus,” said Mike Bamberder, the OSU Emergency Preparedness Manager. “Which is why we’re looked to by the city and the county to help be part of solution. And we’re glad to be part of that continuum we have out there.”

Overall, after the debriefing, Benton County says though there may have been a few bumps in communication among all the agencies, the drill went well and will only help all the involved agencies be more prepared for future scenarios.

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