Nevada Agencies Participate in Emergency Disaster Exercise - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Nevada Agencies Participate in Emergency Disaster Exercise

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The Nevada National Guard is joining forces with several state and federal agencies for a mock disaster drill.  Vigilant Guard '17 is the name of the exercise. It started Thursday, with a mock earthquake in Las Vegas.  The magnitude 7.2 was followed up with a magnitude 7.8 in Los Angeles, Monday.

"We need to do these exercises and think catastrophically, so that we can have plans that are scoped to deal with large issues," Col. Cory Schulz, Director of Joint Operations for the Nevada National Guard said.

While first responders and Guardsmen are training at the "rubble pile" at the Southern Nevada Operation Engineers' Facility, others are operating out of the Emergency Operations Center in Carson City.  Since the exercise involves large earthquakes in two states, it also involves cooperation between the two states.

"This is a great handshake opportunity for us to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure those lines of communication are in place," Caleb Cage, Chief of Nevada Division of Energy Management said.

The Las Vegas mock earthquake resulted in 400 deaths and 7,400 injuries.  Infrastructure was affected, a pipeline ruptured and Hazmat materials sites were damaged.  Thousands were left without gas, water, or electricity.

"So far, we've seen energy issues, water issues, main lifeline issues within the Las Vegas Valley," Cage said. "Of course, in an exercise scenario. We've got issues with debris removal. We've got mass care issues."

Participants include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, California Office of Emergency Services, Clark County Office of Emergency Management and other first-responders and agencies.  The event is co-hosted by the Nevada and California National Guard.

"We, in the military, don't really fix a problem," Schulz said. "We just provide additional assets. We are here to assist the civil first responders."

While the situation is not real, it is made as realistic as possible by using knowledge and lessons from previous disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.  That could include the displacement of residents or mass migration.  The problem begins at the local level but can move up the chain to the federal level.

"One of the things I always remind my people is that someone is suffering, something has happened," Schulz said. "Their house has been damaged, they're displaced. There may be looting and we need to do something about that and we need to help them as fast as we can."

This type of training happens once per year, but large-scale ones that involve so many interstate and federal agencies happens about every three years, because of the funding source.  Cage says the drills are valuable because things are learned that would not have been brought up, otherwise.

"What are we not thinking about? Who are we not telling? What resources have we not brought to be here that we should, and gives us a more strategic perspective?" Cage said.

While communication is critical for the groups and agencies involved, they have also learned to rely on social media as aid.

"People are tweeting, people are posting things to Facebook," Schulz said.  "So, if we can simulate those things so that we can use them to leverage that operational agility to help us to react faster, it helps us a lot."

While social networking can be a valuable tool by speeding up communication, it can also cause questions, since the source might not be reliable or the information could be based on rumors.  That is why those leads are vetted properly, before sending resources.

The drill began last Thursday and runs through Friday.

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