It was a table-top exercise intended to test the capability of the five municipalities of the Cape Ann region to shelter a large number of individuals with functional needs. Its chilling premise was fictional, but it resulted in lessons that could make a big difference in real life.
The fictional scenario featured the Police Department of Gloucester receiving a phone call from an emotional, distraught male stating he had planted bombs in each of the senior housing complexes in Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, and Ipswich. It’s a threat that results in the need to evacuate and shelter the senior citizens who live in these buildings until the threat can be addressed. Senior citizens as a demographic often present functional need in the form of limited mobility, moderate to significant dependence on regular medication, as well as a higher likelihood of experiencing spontaneous emergency health issues, such as heart attacks or strokes.
The exercise, which took place in May 2015, had been proposed in November 2014 by the Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Planning Team (CAEPT), and was funded and facilitated by the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council (NERAC), for which MAPC provides planning and facilitation services.
The NERAC funding provided a consultant to develop, document, and facilitate the exercise, as well as backfill and overtime support to police and fire departments that sent personnel to participate on the day of the exercise.
A planning team with representatives from each of the five Cape Ann communities and MAPC convened with the consultant regularly in the months leading up to the event to refine and focus the specifics of the exercise to ensure it would provide participants with an effective opportunity to identify the strengths of, and potential gaps in, their community’s emergency sheltering plan.
The exercise was a great success, with participation from fifty individuals representing all five of the Cape Ann communities and a variety of disciplines, such as fire services, police, emergency management, public health, senior services, and the Cape Ann Transit Authority. Volunteer and non-governmental organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the Cape Ann Amateur Radio Association (CAARA), also participated. During the exercise, participants made use of NERAC resources to help them respond to the simulated situation. These NERAC resources included one of NERAC’s evacuation transport buses, portable radio caches, communication specialists trained through NERAC-sponsored training, and sheltering equipment.
As a result, the exercise evaluators found that the five Cape Ann communities make a very effective team. As a region, Cape Ann was able to effectively evacuate and shelter their displaced seniors, despite the suddenness of the evacuation notice. A valuable takeaway from the exercise that other communities should make note of was the importance of creating “Go Kits,” especially for individuals with functional needs. “Go Kits” are small bags, even as small as a drawstring backpack, that individuals should pack with essentials that they may have limited access to in the event of an emergency evacuation. Some essentials to be included in “Go Kits” are several days’ worth of prescription and necessary over the counter medication, copies of personal documents, such as pertinent medical information and identification, and the contact information of friends and family. Also, be sure to label the “Go Kit” in the way that luggage is labeled, in order to ensure that the pack can be located if separated from the individual.