In 2010, Salem, Oregon, was struck with a tornado that caused significant property damage and ultimately displaced a number of families.
In the wake of incidents such as this, many municipalities wisely update their continuity of operations plans to learn from past incidents and better prepare for the future. However, considering that natural disasters may be dispersed throughout long periods of time, a continuity of operations plan must be frequently revisited to test it out and identify areas for improvement.
Otherwise, should a disaster strike, it could be like taking an exam a month after one studied for it initially, as there will inevitably be gaps in execution.
Understanding the importance of testing the provisions of an emergency plan, officials in Salem recently engaged in a very realistic mock tornado scenario to test the municipality's ability to effectively respond to disaster circumstances.
The end goal of the exercise is to deploy emergency response from federal, state and city departments to understand how these individuals will work together should a real disaster occur.
For example, local news source The Statesman Journal states that Silverton Hospital in Salem set up an additional hot site and decontamination tent to deal with an influx of patients.
Simultaneously, the fire department tested its search and rescue initiatives, and found that a technical glitch in its communications existed, the report states.
"The reason we do exercises like these is because things change, like cellphone providers," said State Fire Marshal Mark Wallace.
While Salem will now be well positioned to deal with another disaster should it occur, other municipalities may not have the manpower or resources to stage a mock test of this scale. In response, it would be wise for municipalities to turn to an experienced disaster preparedness firm that can assist officials in budgeting for a table top exercise, and make strategic suggestions for improvement.