Daviess County and Owensboro prepare for 'worst-case scenario'

Andy Ball, Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director

Many people don't spend their days thinking about the fateful day when the New Madrid fault unleashes the big one, tornadoes rip through downtown Owensboro or an airline crash yields mass casualties.

There are people, though, like Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director Andy Ball, whose job it is to prepare for the "worst-case scenario."

And on Thursday at the Owensboro Community & Technical College' downtown Owensboro campus, at 1501 Frederica St., Ball will be leading his third Family Reunification Center Virtual Tabletop Exercise.

The FRC exercise this year will center around a hypothetical earthquake striking the Owensboro-Daviess County region and the coordination of local responders in reunifying unaccompanied minors and separated or missing children with their parents or legal guardians in the aftermath of a disaster, Ball said.

"FRC is what it sounds like," he said. "You have a large event like an earthquake or a tornado that hits a highly populated area, whatever the situation may be, it is important to get family members and kids/relatives back together. Let's say it is a New Madrid event, that would be the worst-case scenario. You have highly congested traffic because kids need to be picked up, especially bad if it happened at a school and they had to evacuate to another location. We need to focus on how to calmly, legally and lawfully be able to get the right kids with the right people."

The importance of this type of training is that it allows a smaller community like Owensboro to work in conjunction with various responders in larger cities and other states to compare notes on a strategic response.

This year, Ball will work with area responders and public entities such as the Daviess County Sheriff's Department, Owensboro Police Department, Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport and area schools, along with sister entities in Florida, Los Angeles, Michigan, Minnesota, Wyoming and others, to tackle the training.

"You get tunnel vision if you're continuously doing your own thing," he said. "It is like checking a box. It isn't anyone's fault, it is the nature of the beast. Mostly the resources and people haven't changed. Most of our exercises can feel like deja vu. When you participate in these types of trainings, especially with those outside of your state, you get a lot more perspective. I participated in one where there was a mass casualty incident as well as a chlorine leak. It is cool to hear how these different communities and organizations respond."

While preparing for a major event, no matter how unlikely, is important, Ball wants to put more focus on events that are more possible, such as an isolated school shooting, he said.

"An earthquake would tax our resources and then some," he said. "I want to focus more intently on the likelihood of school shooter or something more realistic. ... One big thing that came out of the active shooter incident at Marshall (County) was the FRC was trying to reunite parents and students. Students had run out of the school to offices and businesses and you have to come up with a plan to reunite them with their families. Statistically, five to seven family members will show up for each student in an event like that. You have a school like Apollo or Owensboro and five to seven family members arrive on scene, you have to have a solid plan. That is why we do these trainings, so we are prepared."

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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