Oklahoma state agencies prepare for disaster with drill
In an underground bunker on the Capitol grounds, dozens of state and local emergency workers prepared for disaster.
The annual "Earth, Wind and Fire" drill began at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with staged natural disasters and weather emergencies hitting towns, cities and counties. As emergency responders worked through their protocols, state agencies were alerted to the fictional emergencies unfurling across the state.
The information is fed back into a war room full of agency officials prepared to respond to catastrophes, whether natural or man-made. Emergency operation centers were activated by local emergency managers, who began dealing with a flurry of simulated ice storms, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding.
This year, a new threat was added to the mix: earthquakes.
Manned desks on the outer rim of the State Emergency Operations Center were represented by numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security, Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Military Department, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, National Weather Service, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Oklahoma Corporation Commission, American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
At the center of the hub was a circle of state emergency management officials.
"We bring in our liaisons from all the state agencies, we sit down together, we take in requests from local jurisdictions — because they're exercising at the same time — and then we try to provide any state resource necessary to help them through their situation," Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Norwood said.
"We try to go as statewide as possible, so we've got ice storms going on, we've got earthquakes going on, we've got severe weather. You know, a typical day in Oklahoma," he said.
"We're concentrating a little more this year on earthquakes. With the number of earthquakes we've had across the state, while they haven't been large in magnitude, we're very concerned about transportation being taken out, major highways, that type of thing," Norwood said.
The state transportation department had its own room where engineers and experts could pore over detailed maps and organize bridge inspections after large temblors.
"We have a procedure in place where we go out and inspect bridges within a five-mile radius of a 4.0 magnitude earthquake or greater," spokesman Cody Boyd said. "So far, we have not had damage to our bridges with any of the earthquakes we've had recently.
"We have a lot of very old bridges in the state. Just 10 years ago, we had 1,168 structurally deficient bridges, and now we're down to 372. There's been a lot of investment in reconstructing and rehabilitating bridges, so we're in a lot better position than we were, but we still have hundreds of bridges that are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old, and they weren't designed to the standard we have today," he said.
"We have maintenance crews in all 77 counties, plus some dedicated interstate maintenance crews, so we can have boots on the ground very quickly in any location," Boyd said.
"The bottom line is that you play like you practice, and that's what we're doing," Norwood said. "Every resource that the state has to offer comes through this operations center."
The exercise was prepared by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and took place in the tunnel beneath the Will Rogers Building, 2401 N Lincoln Blvd.