Practice makes perfect: Agencies prepare for emergencies

DEMA and the city of Dover teamed up to give away cases of bottled water and storable meals to help prepare for potential emergencies Thursday morning at Dover International Speedway. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Nobody knows for sure when a disaster or emergency is coming, such as last week’s EF2 tornado that ripped through Sussex County and left damaged homes and buildings from Laurel all the way to the Seaford area.

That’s why A.J. Schall, the director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), said it’s so important to “practice, practice, practice” as several agencies, including DEMA, Kent County and the city of Dover, came together to participate in a Points of Distribution (POD) practice event on a roadway on the grounds of Dover International Speedway on Thursday morning.

“You never know what can happen,” Mr. Schall said. “Look at what happened down in Laurel last week with the tornado. If that was a bigger event and had more power outages for more people, they could be giving out ice and water and other stuff for people there a few days after the event. This just prepares us for those types of scenarios.”

Kay Sass, public affairs and emergency management coordinator for the city of Dover, noted there were representatives from New Castle and Sussex County taking part in the event as well.

The POD practice event was a part of DEMA’s two-day Points of Distibution and Distribution Management course.

Ms. Sass said that PODs are one of the first front-line interfaces between responders and the impacted population during a disaster. The operational and logistical orchestration of distributing commodities to the public requires well-prepared plans and teams.

“We have approximately 32 people working the entire exercise,” Ms. Sass said. “We’re looking to distribute around 150 or 160 cases of water and MREs, which are meals ready to eat. We have everything from spaghetti and meatballs to beef stew, so there’s a variety of stuff.

“We put out the flyer asking for volunteers and to register and (our office) was inundated with over 100 calls the first day. We’re hoping that everybody that calls in shows up.”

It appeared as if most of them did, as around 20 or so cars were already lined up in order — just like the NASCAR race cars will be at the speedway next weekend — by 9:15 a.m. ready to run through the line and receive their supplies at the POD. The event lasted from 9:30 until 11 a.m.

Olufemi Olatunji was sitting in his pickup truck, the second vehicle in line, some 30 minutes before the event began.

“Actually, I am a part of Delaware Medical Reserve Corps, which helps with preparedness for emergencies and things like that,” Mr. Olatunji said. “I feel this is a way to engage our preparedness in case of any emergencies and disasters, so that’s why I came out.

“This is a way to prepare in case of emergency. It’s very, very important because nobody can tell what is going to happen in the world today, especially with climate change, weather can be crazy, so we need to be prepared.”

Participants were able to keep their cases of water and MREs for giving their time in helping with the exercise.

Everybody who participated in the POD had their own specific role to play.

“We tested the contractors as well,” said Ms. Sass. “By doing so, we had a couple of representatives from one of the organizations that distribute the MREs and water. So, they came out and the deliveries were made from their warehouse out of Tennessee for (Thursday’s) training exercise and they stayed to watch us do our thing.”

Mr. Schall said DEMA’s interactive training course used presentations and exercises to develop responders’ knowledge of PODs and Distribution Management.

POD philosophy was discussed in both planning and emergency response phases. Some areas of discussion included staffing, equipment requirements, commodities, operations and administration.

“Really, this is one of the functions that we may be called upon that we have to assist the counties or the local districts in the event of a disaster,” Mr. Schall said. “(Thursday), we’re more or less going through the distribution process for commodities, so we have cases of water and we have some MREs that we’re going to be giving out.

“But this process is flexible and can be used for a lot of stuff. Our medical partners use it, maybe they have vast amounts of flu shots and vaccinations to do at a time. So, we do the drive-flu clinics (for flu shots) and this is a similar concept, but now this is for food and water.”

The bottom line, Mr. Schall said, was practice makes perfect, and it’s especially important to practice when one doesn’t know when the next disaster or emergency will hit.

“We have partners around the state, different agencies that are getting some hands-on experience setting up the POD and coordinating it,” he said. “We’ve advertised locally so the public can come through and get a case of water and an MRE and kind of test our system out and see how it works.

“When it comes to preparing for emergencies you’ve got to practice, practice, practice.”

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