Freeborn prepares for disaster drill

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 18, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

FREEBORN &045; A tornado watch will occur for the area around Freeborn at precisely 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 9, followed by a tornado warning at 7:55 a.m. The tornado itself will strike Freeborn at 8 a.m. sharp.

The tornado will be on time because it isn’t actually real.

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Like the anhydrous ammonia leak that poisoned a school bus full of children in 2003, the truck bomb that rammed into the courthouse in 2004 and the school shooting of 2005, the fictional tornado is part of a disaster drill designed to test area emergency resources to the limit.

&8220;We’re looking at a tornado drill dealing with issues that may show up at a tornado,&8221; said Director of Emergency Management Mark Roche. &8220;Whether that could be fire, hazardous materials, death, search and rescue, drownings or collapsed structures.&8221;

Though no real truck bombings or school shootings have occurred recently in Freeborn County, the possibility of a tornado razing a town is frighteningly real.

Just five years ago a twister tore through downtown Glenville, hurting no one but destroying eight buildings and causing $3 million in damage. Two tornadoes tag-teamed Hartland on June 19, 1931, and martial law was declared after a tornado ripped the roof off the State Theatre &045; now called the Flame &045; in Wells in August 1946.

For the fictional tornado, there will be injured victims who can and can’t walk at the hospital and at least one mock death. Emergency responders checking the area will go to rural homesteads and find descriptions of the disaster scene they see. Some houses will be fine. Others will have missing people or collapsed buildings with unknown numbers of victims inside. The National Guard will help with security concerns, keeping curious onlookers away from the disaster scene.

Homeland Security will fund $3,000 of the drill, and Freeborn County will match that, partly with labor and equipment.

All sorts of organizations will be involved, such as the Minnesota National Guard, the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, the Crime Victims Crisis Center, many area fire departments, the Hazardous Emergency Assistance Team, the Red Cross, the Albert Lea Amateur Ham Radio Club, and the Radio Emergency Associated Communications Team.

Freeborn County’s new command center trailer will be used to help organize the many groups so that they can work together.

A few things that will be missing from the disaster drill this year will be boating accidents, massive livestock escapes and looters. Roche said these elements may be added to disaster drills in the future as the drills expand to cover more complex situations.

&8220;Every drill, we keep bringing in more and more organizations,&8221; Roche said.

And just in case a real disaster happens, there will be a code word to signal rescue workers that a real problem has developed.