As HurrEvac computer images show Category 3 Hurricane Patricia getting closer to South Florida’s coastline, “Mayor” Patrick Cahill orders his fellow Epiphany Catholic School students to put out a fire in an evacuation shelter and relocate 1,000 residents to other evac centers in the area.
“There are lives at stake, so let’s get this done,” demands Cahill, beginning a mock exercise to teach Epiphany students how to respond to emergencies, placing them in positions correlating to real-life roles.
Cahill and his “Emergency Management Directors,” Katarina Sanchez and Daniel Gaviria, were shouldering the responsibility of supervising Emergency Support Functions (ESFs in emergency management parlance) being handled by their classmates – Fire-Fighting, Transportation, Law Enforcement, Urban Search and Rescue, Health and Medical, Food and Water and Mass Care, to name a few – to ensure that the dispossessed people were properly relocated to other shelters and safe from the approaching storm.
In the meantime, student meteorologists Katerina Molina, Alicia Pagliery and Alejandro Quevedo were briefing student reporters in order to keep the general public apprised of Patricia’s whereabouts and strength.
As soon as the fire in the evacuation shelter was resolved, a gasoline truck overturned on a major evacuation route, leaving thousands of motorists stranded. Gas from the truck was spilling all over the road and motorists were overheated and thirsty with tempers flaring. To make things worse, family pets were jumping from the car windows and escaping into the woods. Again, Mayor Cahill had to depend on his ESFs to resolve this perilous situation.
“We need to remove the truck, contain the spill and get bottled water out to these people as soon as possible.We also need to locate the animals and return them to their owners,” he demanded. Get Hazardous Materials, Resource Management, Mass Care Animal Services on it. We need to move fast.”
After Patricia’s passage, things got even worse.
The students faced equally challenging emergencies such as several hundred senior citizens stranded on an island due to an Intracoastal bridge being slammed into by an ocean tanker. ‘’We’ve sent boats, helicopters and anything we can,’’ said Cahill. “The ship is also spreading fuel all over the water and a few of the elderly need immediate evacuation.”
In the meantime, a hospital was overcrowded with storm victims, medical resources virtually exhausted and basic water and food provisions was also used up. The hospital was on auxiliary power, making it difficult to perform basic surgical procedures. Also, parts of their city were virtually underwater from rain and storm surge, with people and their pets perilously stranded on roof tops and dangling from trees.
Ninety students spent the morning of Nov. 15 at the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center in Doral, Florida, participating in a special hurricane preparedness exercise sponsored by StormZone, a South Florida-based non-profit program where they planned for and recovered from category 3 Hurricane Patricia.
StormZone, sponsored by the American Red Cross, CBS4’s Neighbors 4 Neighbors, and the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, is a free online hurricane science education and preparedness program offered to public and private schools. The program specifically helps students understand the importance of advance preparation when confronted with a natural disaster such as a hurricane.
Since 2006, StormZone has been taught in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County schools throughout hurricane season which ends November 30.
Aimee B. Bojorquez, Emergency Management Coordinator, Office of Emergency Management, at the Miami- Dade Fire Rescue Department, welcomed the students prior to the exercise, describing the Emergency Operations Center as a central coordination point for supporting the response to countywide emergencies and disasters.
“The StormZone Program provides a realistic disaster scenario for students to role play leadership positions and learn how government manages disasters in a truly collaborative partnership,” she stated.
At the conclusion of the exercise, student Mayor Cahill conducted a press conference assisted by student Public Information Officers Emily Salado and Antonella Cardenal to inform student reporters on preparedness measures that were taken before the storm and recovery efforts after its passage. The first question asked was, “were any lives lost?” “No,” said a relieved Cahill.
Through this interactive exercise, students learned about emergency management, made decisions necessary to respond to a disaster in their community and develop a recovery plan,” said Bay Proby, StormZone Director.
“This classroom experience also lets students learn about the importance of individual responsibility, organizational collaboration and project management skills when confronted with a hurricane.” For more information about StormZone, visit www.stormzone.us.