Emergency Officials Begin Ice Storm Preparations

Wednesday, November 19th 2008, 7:24 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma state emergency management officials are beginning to prepare for possibly bad winter weather.

Wednesday they held a disaster response exercise; the disaster being an ice storm.

There were no major glitches, but there's always a certain amount of chaos in a disaster response even if it's just a drill.

Participating agencies were told, as much as possible, information would flow, and they should proceed as if it were a real-world emergency.

Good information flow is often an early casualty in a disaster setting, and state officials know it's critical to avoid that, if they hope to respond to disaster in a way that increases public safety.

"We're dealing with power outages, phone services out in a lot of areas, certainly travel is discouraged, all things that we're all too familiar with in Oklahoma," Michelann Ooten with Oklahoma Emergency Management said.

It was just under a year ago that freezing rain and ice gave Oklahoma emergency responders all they could handle, and then some. Wednesday's "ice storm" was designed to be on the same scale.

"It's probably one of the worst that we could simulate," Gary Davis with the Oklahoma Homeland Security Office said. "It covers the eastern side of Oklahoma, from about Oklahoma City to the east, and then all of the state of Arkansas."

The simulation included everything from local television reports to the phone calls and e-mail that would be bouncing around between agencies.

"The communication between us and the other agencies is the big question mark here, so this exercise really helps us in that sense," Alex Calvillo said.

"From an exercise we go back and we look at what worked and what didn't work, make improvements to those things that worked and then apply those to real-life incidents across the state," Davis said.

This is pretty serious business, when you consider that, combined, the ice storm that hit central Oklahoma in December 2007, and the one that hit Tulsa in January 2007, claimed more than 50 lives, knocked out power to more than 600,000 homes, and did some $230 million in damage.

Wednesday's drill was spearheaded by the state office of Homeland Security and funded, primarily, through a grant from FEMA.