Perry County Holds Mock Disaster

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Jared Roberts

PERRY CO. -- First responders were put to the test Wednesday morning in Pinckneyville. Fire departments, hospitals, and police were among those practicing their disaster plan at a mock emergency .

The scene was an emergency that's all to common in southern Illinois.
 
Dispatch toned out that  weather spotters reported seeing a tornado touch down just south of area near Virginia Court. That sent first responders from around the region rushing to the site of the Perry County Jail. 
 
"Struck the building next to the jail, causing some debris to get onto the jail, causing a collapse, a gas leak, and a flash fire," said Perry County EMA Coordinator David Searby. 
 
However, Wednesday morning's skies were actually sunny and clear. The bleeding victims were just actors playing the roles of inmates and residents.
 
It was all part of a drill to see how Perry County would handle a real disaster.
 
"We're testing how the ambulances are going to respond," said Searby. "We're going to test how the hospitals handle surge capacity."
 
Searby spent nearly a year working on the exercise, and more than a dozen of agencies came in for the training.
 
"Determine what works, what didn't work," said Searby. "We learn from it, and it makes us better in our responses in the future."
 
On the medical side, injuries were evaluated and people treated at both the Pinckneyville and Du Quoin hospitals.
 
Having the fake tornado hit near the jail also brought up security challenges for the Sheriff's Department.
 
"You've got to control the inmates," said Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman. "You've got to control the public. You cannot let anybody have access to the secured area of the jail."
 
Kellerman would need to be split his staff between watching over the E.R. and making sure no one escapes during the evacuation.
 
"It stretches you very thin," said Kellerman. 
 
The Sheriff's Department also houses Perry county's dispatch. As part of the drill Wednesday, those calls were switched over to the Du Quoin Police Department.
     
The stressful scenario is crucial for everyone to practice, just in case the worst ever happens.
 
Evaluators were on hand checking to see that participants followed important steps. Right after the drill, they reviewed a few areas. Perry County will be working on a full report about the mock emergency next week.
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