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Annual Erie County Weather Simulation was an Interesting One this Week

May 18, 2014

The annual Erie county emergency weather drill was held this past Wednesday (May 14) beginning at 6:30 PM. This drill is held every year in preparation for a large-scale, countywide weather disaster, and involves multiple agencies and large numbers of emergency personnel, not just amateur radio. A simulation is written up ahead of time involving a long-track, destructive tornado through the county, and storm spotters and RACES disaster teams are involved in tracking the storm and also dealing with its aftermath.

This year, we got an unexpected surprise during the drill. As you may recall, there was a threat of severe thunderstorms in the area Wednesday afternoon and evening, and a tornado watch was in effect up to the Ashtabula-Erie county line. However, the leaders of the drill decided to allow it to go on even with the threatening weather nearby. All was going well through about the first half hour, with check ins and reports being handled effective and as planned. Then, somewhere a little before 7 PM, the NWS in Cleveland contacted the West County EOC staff via 6 meters and delivered a real-world request for spotters in the Edinboro area to track a cell they were concerned about. The drill net was suspended during this time for around a half hour during the time the storm tracked through the county in case someone had real storm reports to pass. No one was in an ideal spot to watch the storm, but multiple mobile stations checked in and kept an eye on it. It appeared to track northeast through the county along and a bit south of the I90 corridor.

The storm cleared out by around 7:30, and the leaders decided the drill could resume again at that point with no imminent threat anymore. However, the other aspects of the drill had continued to flow even without ham radio, so at that point our side was backed up in a hole. The following hour of disarray was spent trying to get the drill communications back on track. It never really happened, in spite of all the efforts. Everything wrapped up around 8:30 PM.

I commend the efforts of all those involved that did their best to get the drill going again after the real-world interruption. That was the only negative I saw during the entire event. I thought our communications for both the simulation and the real threat performed very well, and all the EOC locations seemed to run fairly smoothly. When it comes to emergency communications, the rule of thumb is always to expect the unexpected, and we certainly got a taste of that on Wednesday. In spite of all the craziness, I believe the drill was a success, and as always, there was plenty for us to be able to take away from the exercise.

If you participated in or listened to the drill communications, I would love to hear what you thought! Also, I have a full recording of all the communications. At this time I have not posted it for sharing due to its large file size, but if anyone is interested in hearing or saving it please let me know and I will post the audio so you can download it.

One ironic aspect of the drill was that the imaginary storm track that had been created weeks in advance was nearly identical to the track the real-world storm took through the county. One spotter who came across our net without realizing it was a drill called in as a real-world station, reporting having eyes on our imaginary storm. Further proof that just because something is a drill doesn’t always mean it will go exactly by the books!

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