Tornado drill one serious game

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Call it the Red Cross&8217; most high-stakes board game.

That&8217;s what it looked like Wednesday at the North Union Street headquarters of the organization&8217;s Adams County chapter.

Local staff and volunteers, along with Red Cross regional officials, were holding a drill to determine how the chapter could respond to a tornado strike all by itself.

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The scenario the regional officials presented was that a tornado had hit the Trees subdivision off U.S. 61 south of Natchez, affecting 50 households.

From the time the &8220;tornado&8221; hit &8212; at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday &8212; Red Cross personnel rushed around the headquarters&8217; meeting room.

They were placing differently colored sticky notes marked with phrases like &8220;100 blankets&8221; or names of specific volunteers on large sheets of white paper representing different shelters and command centers.

The notes changed places again and again as the Red Cross allocated their &8220;resources&8221; to the places of most need.

Then, at different times during the drill, Red Cross regional officials would throw unexpected happenings into the mix, said Ellen Noble, a chapter solutions manager for the Southeast region of the Red Cross.

They would tell local volunteers, for instance, that 20 people were already at the Parkway Baptist Church shelter before it opened.

Or that Friends 5-0 had seven people that wanted to volunteer to help but needed training.

Or that one shelter wanted an agreement signed saying the Red Cross would be responsible for phone bills and damage done to the facility during the emergency.

Based on how the chapter is graded on the drill, it could get additional training or equipment from the regional office.

But just having the experience before disaster strikes is helpful, said volunteer Don Winter.

&8220;This way, people can learn the whole disaster operation instead of just one part of it,&8221; he said.