Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr.
Jim Wells County Correspondent
Terrorists placed a bio-agent into the local water supply, while several tornadoes ravaged parts of Tecolote and grass fires spread across southern Jim Wells County – all in one simulated disaster day for Jim Wells County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz.
As the JWC Emergency Management Director, Saenz traveled to College Station last week for a four-day class on the Multi Agency Coordination System, as part of a 12-county contingent representing the Coastal Bend Council of Governments (COG). The focus of the class was “Disaster City,” a small town perfectly modeled and always affected by big problems. One day saw the city ravaged by a toxic spill, followed by an afternoon train derailment, with actual derailed cars on and off the tracks.
Sponsored by the Texas Education Extension Service and Texas A&M College Station, county emergency leaders from across the Coastal Bend received a crash course on emergency agency relations during times of struggle, based on the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which is the standard across the United States for emergency management.
The coordinators went through mock drills for four hours at a time. The responses to various manmade and natural disasters were all recorded and evaluated during class, to better prepare local leaders for the real thing.
In the event of an emergency, the Emergency Operations Command (EOC) would be set up locally for disaster decision making. If all supplies and resources are used up by the EOC when handling a disaster of some kind, the MACS will be put in effect to add to the resources of the local Coastal Bend COG.
NIMS is set up to have many jurisdictional layers, back-ups in place to ensure that once a resource is tapped out, another will be prepared to pick up any slack. In the event that resources from both the EOC and MACS are depleted, Saenz said the groups turn to state resources through the governor’s Disaster District Coordinator, adding another level of protection should the need for help arise for Jim Wells County residents.
Government officials were at Disaster City each day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., conducting half day drills that took place in real time, using realistic scenarios, with monitors overseeing every move. Saenz compared this process of being monitored and assessed to living in a fish bowl for four days, but he said it was to the benefit of Jim Wells County.
“It’s better to have that training on hand and be ready for the actual experience should it occur,” Saenz said.