Hawkins EMA preparing for massive simulated disaster, evacuation

Jeff Bobo • Jun 19, 2013 at 10:03 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Months of drought will spark a massive wildfire in eastern Hawkins County on Tuesday, resulting in a mandatory evacuation of thousands of residents.

But unless you’re sitting at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Hawkins County Central Dispatch offices in Rogersville, you won’t hear or see what’s going on.

Not even a wisp of smoke.

The Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency will be collaborating with local, state and federal emergency services Monday and Tuesday for a statewide disaster drill utilizing communications only.

There will be some preliminary communications simulations on Monday, setting the scene for the actual evacuations, which will be coordinated via simulated communications throughout the day Tuesday.

Hawkins County EMA Director Gary Murrell said this is the first time Hawkins County has been ordered by the state to order a simulated evacuation of this magnitude. It is also required for Hawkins County to continue receiving EMA grant funding from the state.

All activities will be limited to the EOC at the Hawkins County Central dispatch office in Rogersville.

But numerous agencies will be participating in the simulation, including the Health Department, the Red Cross, TEMA, the state forestry division, the UT Agricultural Extension Agency and local, county and state police and emergency agencies.

“Somebody at the state level felt like we needed to have a massive evacuation of Hawkins County,” Murrell said. “We’re going to have to evacuate the most densely populated area of Hawkins County. That would be the upper (east) end of the county. There’s a two-part drought scenario for this event, and for the past two months we’ve been getting messages every week, leading up to this major event. It’s going to be a large-scale fire.”

Murrell added, “This is not going to be an actual evacuation drill. We’re doing this on paper and (computer) screen, but we’re going to actually pinpoint every residence and every business that has to be evacuated and try to identify the number of people.”

Murrell said the state is keeping most of the details about the simulated disaster a secret from him and other county officials. The specific nature of the disaster will be presented to those participating in real time, and they will simulate their communications accordingly.

Murrell said the exercise will provide him and those participating with valuable experience. He’s also hoping to coordinate a large-scale disaster drill at a county school this summer sometime before the school year starts.

“We may not see a real disaster of this magnitude, but trust me, eventually we’re going to have a serious weather event in this county,” Murrell said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

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