CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — First responders in central West Virginia were hard at work Wednesday, practicing drills to assure they’re prepared for any emergency that could plague the region.

The 10 counties that make up Homeland Security’s Region 4 of West Virginia — Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, Upshur and Webster — took part in full-scale emergency management exercises Wednesday to evaluate their response preparedness.

“We are just evaluating the capabilities for the emergency managers and some of the response agencies to respond to a natural disaster, such as what we see a lot in our part of West Virginia, which is the heavy snowfall that melts in the spring time and causes some flooding after some heavy rain,” said Shawn Dunbrack, Region 4 Homeland Security Area Liaison.

Dunbrack said it’s a training they try to do annually, though it’s not always possibly because of how difficult it is to get all of the first responders together at one time, particularly during the work week.

“A lot of the fire and EMS folks are volunteers, so we don’t have as many of those involved as what we would have if it were a real incident but we do have several,” he said. “Inside the 10 counties, we have our emergency management folks, the health department and five different fire departments along with us.”

With so many first responders present, Dunbrack cautions residents that there’s no need to worry — it’s just a drill.

“I’m sure folks, if they’ve been by the fire departments or the emergency management office, they may have seen some extra folks around or may be a little nervous, but it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s all for practice,” he said.

During Wednesday’s drills, Dunbrack’s job was to identify any gaps in the capabilities of the departments involved. Many of the exercises involved coordination and communication between the various crews.

“They’ll be doing a lot of radio communication, they’ll be doing some communication with other platforms through the internet and validating those programs that they use like what we have for our situation awareness and our resource requesting,” he said. “Also, their ability to look at their own capabilities of when they may need to request help from outside agencies, whether that be from another neighboring county or from the state.”

These skills are vital if and when an emergency does occur.

“If there is an actual event, these types of exercises have allowed us to identify those capabilities of things that we are good at, and then identify any gaps, whether things that we maybe need to exercise or practice some more, or areas that we may need more training in, or equipment or things like that,” Dunbrack said. “We’ll be better prepared to respond should an actual event occur.”

Once the annual exercises are complete, a formal report is included in the “after-action review” that identifies the areas where crews excelled, as well as areas that need improved upon.

“They’ll be an improvement plan,” Dunbrack said. “Any of those gaps will be identified, and then those will be used for next year. That’s where our training will focus for next year is those areas we were deficient on.​”

For more information, visit the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management.

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