|Prescott Valley Police Cmdr. James Edelstein takes town department heads through an emergency scenario Tuesday morning as Police Chief Bill Fessler looks on.|
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster
Special to the Tribune
As most of Prescott Valley slept in the early hours of Tuesday morning, police and town staff leaders, along with volunteers, filtered into the police department in response to a 3 a.m. callout.
The event was a mock activation of Prescott Valley's Emergency Operations Center, and most of the people who received a phone call or text, including council members and department heads, had no advance notice.
Prescott Valley Police Cmdr. James Edelstein and Town Manager Larry Tarkowski, along with Yavapai County Emergency Services Manger Hugh Vallely, put Tuesday's exercise together. Police Chief Bill Fessler also knew in advance about the exercise.
Tarkowski said he was pleased that council members and town department heads all were able to respond and get to the command area within 30-45 minutes, some traveling from as far away as Chino Valley.
Of course, if Tuesday's scenario had happened, Jeep Posse volunteers or public works employees with four-wheel drive vehicles would have had to transport many of the players.
Vallely, Edelstein and Tarkowski used the Prescott area's legendary 1967 blizzard as a guideline for the Tuesday scenario, except that 46 years down the road, Prescott Valley has more than 40,000 people to shepherd through such a large incident.
As principal players entered, some chipper and swigging coffee, and others sporting some wild hairstyles and yawning widely, Edelstein took command of the exercise. First order of business was to set up the communications center, something that with more notice, already would have been done. But Edelstein wanted to see how quickly it could be done.
Then, town leaders such as Tarkowski, Mayor Harvey Skoog, and council members went to the administrative offices of the Civic Center, while the rest of the department heads and town staff stayed at the police department. They would be in the trenches, reporting to the administrative staff on a regular basis.
Edelstein laid out the original snowstorm scenario, and as their brains began to awaken, staff quickly fired off solutions for the deep snow, power outages, and communications. But things went south quickly when Edelstein added new challenges - car accidents, a bus rollover, closures of Highways 89A and 69, and Fain Road, and calls from residents who were cold or hurt.
Crucial services were identified, such as keeping the hospital powered, and opening Tim's Toyota Center and schools as shelters for people who didn't have heat. Vallely mentioned Animal Disaster Services because, he said, people's pets are like their children. Generators surfaced at the top of the discussions, because they would be required to run the wastewater treatment plant and well pumps, as well as keeping some local industrial materials safe.
Vallely explained the role the County Emergency Management Services would play and how they would assist Prescott Valley in a disaster scenario. The drama played out much like an organized brainstorming session, with everyone adding specialized knowledge and ideas to each new challenge. This works especially well for a small town like Prescott Valley, Vallely said.
"Everyone there had suggestions, and that's what it's all about. Everyone comes with experience that helps coordinate that end product. They are able to identify what is needed and where to get it. They seem to do that pretty well," he said.
"That's why we have drills, to see how things work on paper. When the rubber hits the road, things come up that you don't foresee. Practice and exercise is the best thing," he said.
Tarkowski said organizers wanted to gauge response to an emergency, good or bad, and he was pleased with the outcome.
"We have a very dynamic municipal team," he said.
"We identified some areas that we can improve on," Edelstein said. "Particularly knowing the location of generators and whether or not people have serviced them for medical needs, long-term care, and more. Overall, it was a huge success. The management group was looking at the same scenarios and they were coming up with, 'How do we handle it."'
The detailed scenario ended at 7:30 a.m., and the organizers said, while they identified some areas to improve, overall they were pleased with the outcome. The organizers will send out a critique on the exercise, and all players will develop a review of what they did well and what they can work on in the future.
Vallely added that the town would do more training in March with the executive group to better identify their roles in a disaster.