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SW Okla Emergency Management Officials Hold Workshop

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COMANCHE CO., Okla_ Emergency management officials across Southwest Oklahoma are better prepared to deal with disasters as a team.

About 50 Emergency Management Directors gathered for a workshop in Lawton Wednesday. They learned their roles in a new Rapid Response Support Team for Southwest Oklahoma. The workshop also taught the group how to better protect drivers and themselves from injury or death when responding to traffic accidents.

In the event of a major disaster, for example a wildfire, it could take up to 24 hours for incident support teams out of Oklahoma City or Tulsa to get help to Southwest Oklahoma. That time is extremely vital. That's why the information learned in these workshops helps area emergency management teams work better and faster as a unit.

As emergency management officials listened closely during Wednesday's workshop, they each had they're own reasons why the information was so vital. For many, it was lessons learned from past wildfires.

"In the past three years, we've had the Medicine Park, the Meers fire or Ferguson fire," said Kevin Rhoads of the Oklahoma Emergency Management Association. "Then, we had the Indiahoma Cooperton fire. It makes it very difficult when those incident support teams are in Oklahoma City or even in Tulsa. It may be a long period of time, as much as 24 hours, before those people can get all gathered up, geared up and come"

Rhoads, who is also the Emergency Management Director for the City of Purcell, said that's why each department has to learn what they can do to help each other.

"One of the things that I may specialize in can help support an emergency manager from here in Comanche County or wherever," Rhoads said. "That helps build upon them, and that releases them for what they really need to do, which is take care of their scene."

The group also learned about ways to improve response times and first-responder injuries during a traffic accident.

If there were an accident today along 1-44, traffic could be backed up for several hours. Also, within that time, the chances for accidents involving drivers and first-responders is very high. Emergency management officials say Wednesday's course helps them learn to decrease that time as well as the risk of injury or death.

"We found out a lot of larger PDs have the highways shut down for four hours for major accidents," Comanche County Emergency Management Director Clint Wagstaff said. "If we can cut that time in half to two hours and get them off, you've got traffic flowing and the less chance a police officer will get hit by another vehicle. Also it will help not to cause wrecks behind the scene downstream."

Thursday, everything they learned will be put to the test. They'll take part in a mock disaster, and even be graded on their performance.

The group said even though they were paying close attention to Wednesday's workshop, they were paying even closer attention to the weather.

"Since some of the storms started firing already, we've lost a few of the emergency managers in the region to go back home and start watching," Wagstaff said. "We've all got radars up. We're all watching the weather."

The group meets every other month to fine-tune their response and communication skills.

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