After training for four days and responding for five hours
BERRYVILLE, VA. (AP) _ After training for four days and responding for five hours to a simulated multiple disaster, Atlanta authorities and Olympic officials say they’re starting to grasp what might be in store for them once the Games begin next year.
``It was a very valuable experience,″ said Douglas Arnot, director of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, after 125 officials completed the federal course Thursday. ``It certainly brought together a lot of people who will have to play on the same team, and for the first time for many of them, it highlighted the need to work together and better understand what each others roles will be.″
The climax of the Federal Emergency Management Agency course was the five-hour drill in which the Atlanta group had to deal with a traffic accident and fire that blocked I-285, a major water main break downtown, the bombing of a power substation, a series of tornadoes and a host of smaller problems.
``Our exercises are kind of devilish in a way,″ said John W. McKay, director of FEMA’s training division. ``We don’t let them win.
``If they think they’ve got it fixed, we’ll break something else and throw at them, which is very much similar to actual disaster situations, and trying to respond to them.″
Angelo Fuster, an aide to Mayor Bill Campbell, said the drill left the group ``really stretched and challenged.″
``The kind of constant challenges that we experienced was exactly the kind of training we needed,″ he said.
The drill, and the three days of workshops that preceded it, were conducted at FEMA’s Mount Weather conference and training center in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley about 70 miles west of Washington.
FEMA has been offering similar crisis management training to cities since 1983. Officials from Oklahoma City went through the program last year and credited it for helping them handle the aftermath of the April 19 terrorist attack on the federal building.
To prepare the Atlanta and Olympic officials, the course was specifically tailored to match conditions and situations expected in Atlanta next summer, right down to using the same number of computer terminals and programs in use in Atlanta and Fulton County emergency management offices.
Fuster said the simulation was so real that in the midst of the disaster drill, ``citizens were calling to complain or ask for pictures of the mayor and council members were calling to demand how come we’re spending so much money.″
Contributing to the realism were ``Olympic newsbreaks″ that were broadcast into each room where the Atlanta officials were dealing with their simulated crises.
The newsbreaks, produced by a FEMA consultant, used interviews and information from the Atlanta officials to continually update the crisis of the moment, and how it was being handled.
While most of the drill dealt with weather, traffic or public works disasters, the group also had to respond to a series of bomb threats against the city’s power substations _ and the bombing of one substation that caused 11 injuries requiring hospitalization.
McKay said FEMA will be introducing more terrorist type situations into its training for cities in the future. But he said any type of crisis management training can help officials deal with the aftermath of terrorist attacks.
``Responding to major events is pretty much the same, in terms of the requirements for coordination and pre-planning,″ he said.