Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Preparing for the Worst with Deep Freeze '16 Exercise

Story by Leila Roche

On Saturday morning, Jan. 9, a U.S. Army Guard Reserve soldier burst through the doors of the Tent at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado Springs had set up a shelter. “Help! Please, help me!” cried the woman he was half carrying – her arm draped around his shoulder and his arm around her waist to help her walk.

But she wasn’t injured. And the soldier departed with a smile and a wave.

This was all part of Deep Freeze ’16 – an exercise to simulate a blizzard. More than 30 organizations participated and 400 people volunteered in the simulation throughout Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

For those of us living in Colorado Springs and the surrounding county, we know all too well the very real and distinct possibility of conditions going from normal to disastrous. Ensuring we can be there for our community members when they need it most requires many moving parts working together – something that is better done with practice.
Red Cross volunteer Rose Knight (r) helps Cathy 
Hanchett register at the mock shelter in the New
 Life Church Tent in Colorado Springs. Hanchett 
was chilled near the shelter door so Rose's husband 
Bob gave her a Red cross blanket. 
 (p/c Joe Coleman/American Red Cross)

In this case, the simulation assumed blizzard conditions – freezing temperatures, high wind speeds, blinding snow and 10-foot snow drifts. Residents lost power and heat, and drivers – both local and traveling – were stranded on roads and the interstate. As a result the county, city and state agencies received a barrage of emergency calls. How do we triage the calls? How do we ensure there isn’t a duplication of effort? Where do we take people? How do we feed them? What about their pets? How do we communicate if channels are overloaded? These – and many more – were the questions that needed to be answered.

Volunteers played stranded victims, each with their own role. Some needed to be taken to the hospital to be treated. Others just needed shelter – somewhere safe to wait out the storm. As part of the simulation, Red Cross setup a mock shelter at New Life Church. More than 30 volunteers were on-site to participate in training. Three main stations were set up for volunteers to tour after being brought to the shelter: registration, food and dormitory.

Soldiers who were part of the Colorado National Guard transported victims from their locations to the shelter, where they were checked-in by Red Cross volunteers and given food, water and blankets. Our three cot styles – normal, bariatric and medical – were also set up to give volunteers and idea of what kind of sleeping arrangements they would have available, as well.
Red Cross volunteers Roger Bram (l) and 
Bob Knight move a cot into position at 
the mock shelter in the New Life Church Tent in
 Colorado Springs. (p/c Joe Coleman/American Red Cross)

Also on site was a Pikes Peak Amateur Emergency Service volunteer, who used digital messaging to communication between the Red Cross and the El Paso Office of Emergency Management. At the end of the event, the Salvation Army brought volunteers – both Red Cross and exercise volunteers – food

The exercise not only gave Red Cross and all participating organizations an opportunity to practice existing procedures and identify areas of improvement prior to a storm, but also gave residents experience on what services are available to them and what to do. It’s by working together and preparing for a time of need, that we can ensure we are there when the need is greatest.

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