Watching intently through sunglasses, Chuck Martin critiques firemen, security personnel and paramedics who are busy sorting through "victims" of a major tornado that hypothetically ripped through NAS Meridian Thursday morning.
As the drill unfolds, Martin, the installation training officer for NAS Meridian, jots down notes and keeps up with the timetable while at the same time talking into a radio to members of the base's emergency operations center. As this scenario unfolds, elsewhere in Lauderdale County and Meridian similar drills are under way. Thursday marked a day of a huge cooperative exercise designed to test the readiness and efficiency of area emergency agencies.
"The overall goal was to see just how well Meridian, county and navy base agencies and personnel could work together in the event we had a major natural incident such as a tornado," said David Sharp, director of the Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency. "These drills tend to show us what areas we need to work on. There is no such thing as perfect but we want to try and get as close to perfect as possible."
The county-wide scenario included the worst case tornado incident in which Clarkdale High School, the city of Meridian, Meridian High School, Northeast Lauderdale High School and NAS Meridian are all hit by a powerful tornado … much like the one that devastated parts of Mississippi two weeks ago. A tornado that size hitting schools full of students and business districts would be horrific in scale and in damage and casualties. It would also require every available emergency agency from the volunteer fire departments to the Meridian Department of Homeland Security to respond quickly and in coordination with each other.
"Overall I think the drill went well," said Meridian Department of Homeland Security Director Tim Miller. "We identified some areas where improvement is needed such as some aspects of communication but you expect wrinkles to develop. That's why we must now iron them out."
Even hospitals in Meridian participated in the drill. Rush Foundation Hospital received the two critical "patients" and six other of the "walking wounded" Thursday morning.
"Operation Gale Wind" on board NAS Meridian Thursday morning was part of a much larger hurricane preparedness exercise, HURREX/Citadel Gale 10, that continues through May 13. The purpose of this annual exercise is to prepare the Navy to respond to weather threats to U.S. coastal regions. The exercise will provide a focused training event to afloat and shore-based commands using simulated hurricane threat scenarios.
"This gives us a great opportunity for us to see where we are weak and where we are strong in terms of responsiveness and getting the job done," Martin said. "NAS Meridian has been hit by tornadoes in the past, most recently two years ago so it is very important for us to conduct these drills."