Emergency crews are put to the test in Butler County - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Emergency crews are put to the test in Butler County


A full-scale exercise Saturday morning was designed to test the skills of emergency crews in Butler County, and uncover any problems.

In just the past four years, Butler County has dealt with a devastating tornado, record floods, and a school shooting. Through the ordeals, they've learned the importance of training and communication. That's why the county Emergency Management Coordinator included law enforcement, firefighters, health care workers, and public relations experts in this weekend's exercise.

They went through several situations, including a massive viral outbreak, an ethanol plant explosion, and a stabbing at the Clarksville school.

"We try to keep it as real as possible. That's what we're doing today," said Jason Johnson, Butler County Sheriff.

The attacker in the school scenario is actually the head custodian Bob Bartlett, and two of his kids played victims.

"It could happen. Everybody knows it could happen -- it's happened before. To see them actually laying there, hurt, bleeding, it touches home," said Bartlett.

In 2009, Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas was shot and killed in the school's weight room. For other first responders, the scene is reminiscent of 2008 when Butler County was hit first by a EF-5 tornado, then a record-breaking flood.

"We learned a lot of things about our county at that time. And knew that there were ways we could improve. We made a lot of changes in our emergency response, the way we respond. We spent a lot of money upgrading equipment," said county EMA Coordinator Mitch Nordmeyer.

In order to truly test their skills the scenarios are kept as real as possible. The actors are given instructions, but very few people know exactly what will happen next.

"Everyone likes to plan as much as they can. But in a real situation, you don't have that advantage," said Johnson.

"We're going to have a list of things to work on," Nordmeyer added. "But that's the whole purpose of today. Exercises were designed to not go well. That's the way you learn. If an exercise goes exactly as planned, it was a poorly planned exercise."

The exercise takes a lot of effort from everyone involved -- including the surrounding neighborhood. But when the time comes to use these skills -- the time in training will pay off.

"It's nice to know that, now they know what to expect, how to handle things," said Bartlett.

The Emergency Management coordinator is expected to run a county-wide exercise every three years. It's been a little longer than that since Butler County has conducted a large scale training day. But as Nordmeyer explained, they've had to deal with several real emergencies the last few years.

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