The massive tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., this spring was re-enacted recently under clear skies in Platteville when area emergency services personnel staged a major disaster training exercise on Monday evening, Sept. 12 at Southwest Health Center.
The Joplin tornado struck May 22 as an EF-5, the strong-est rating on the tornado damage scale. The twister killed 162 people and injured more than 1,000 making it the seventh deadliest tornado in US history and the deadliest in 60 years. In a matter of seconds the storm left the local community hospital in ruins, overwhelming the community's professional and volunteer emergency personnel and making an effective life-saving response immensely more challenging.
In southwest Wisconsin communities, emergency services agencies regularly coordinate disaster drills to maintain readiness for a variety of situations. This drill, say Southwest Health Center officials, was more significant for the extent and value of the collaboration between many community agencies. "This was a cooperative effort between our hospital, Platteville EMS, the Platteville fire and police departments, the Hidden Valley Amateur Radio Club, and Dr. Michael Connolly of the Medical Associates Clinic who also serves as EMS medical director," said SHC Safety Director Becky Schambow. "It was a valuable exercise because it helped us better prepare for unforeseen problems in coordinating an effective, live-saving response under extreme conditions."
Schambow cites a particular challenge posed by the Joplin scenario-the difficulties of communicating when telephones and cell phone communications no longer function. "We were forced to think carefully about how to coordinate agencies using hand held radios. In this case, the assistance of our local ham radio experts was extremely important," she says.