Local Officials Take Part In Weather Disaster Drill

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

February 2, 2006

It feels a lot like spring outside, but often this time of the year brings lots of wintry weather. Despite the weather, officials in our area are getting prepared to handle a weather disaster.

Charlottesville's weather seems pleasant now, but could cause havoc at a moment's notice. Area officials are making sure they are prepared.

"We're exercising everyone in this community as far as police, fire, E.M.S., social services, Red Cross, and many other groups who would respond in the event of a disaster," said Marge Thomas, the Coordinator of the Emergency Operations Center serving the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

They are taking part in a disaster drill called 'Winter Storm 2006'. A drill is done once a year, and this year's focus is on severe weather.

"We've had some bad winter storms in the past, and that's what we're practicing today--to see what types of effects would occur over the long-haul of a three day storm," added Thomas.

The three day storm is a noreaster simulated through computers in three separate rooms. The storm brought heavy rain for the first 12 hours leaving as much as five inches on the ground. Continuing to fall, it started to freeze, and the temperature dipped into the 20s.

"In the winter-time, in this part of Virginia, it is a very realistic scenario," said Michael Cocker, with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County personnel filled three rooms, one to handle coordination for staff, another to maintain policies, and another to dispatch emergency crews. Still, are they ready for what's next?

"The focus of this exercise was the severe ice storm with the winds and no electricity," added Cocker.

The computerized storm started with 90% of our area left in the dark; just enough to paralyze an entire community.

Officials were asked if they thought the drill pushed the envelope by being unrealistic, they said no matter what, it makes them able to handle the worse if it comes.

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