You were likely not aware of it, but Wednesday morning, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake centered near Jonesboro, Arkansas struck, causing widespread devastation across DeSoto County.
Well, the earthquake really didn’t happen, but several agencies sprung into action as if it did actually take place.
It was called Shaken Fury 2019, a simulation done by the DeSoto County Emergency Services Agency based on Old Highway 51 in Nesbit.
Emergency personnel, police, fire and first responders, government officials such as members of the Board of Supervisors, DeSoto County School District transportation officials and private concerns all took part.
Divided into specific areas based on their position and expertise, the groups were told the situation and then given time to communicate among themselves and others about what their response would be.
Emergency Services Deputy Director Josh Harper said Wednesday’s exercise was the first one done in DeSoto County in about five years. Harper added county emergency personnel are a part of near-similar efforts in neighboring counties on an almost yearly basis, however.
“We haven’t had an exercise like this in a long time because it is so difficult to get all the private sector and public sector agencies together to do something like this, since they’re all caught up in creating their own plans,” said Harper. “This is how we identify capability shortfalls in our planning and set planning horizons so we can better prepare for the future.”
Southaven Fire Chief Danny Scallions added these gatherings help get emergency personnel ready for when, or if, the real thing happens.
“It just helps to get in a room together and work through things like this, so the day that this actually happens, hopefully it will be a much smoother process,” said Scallions. “This helps put everyone on the same page and know what their role would be so hopefully things will go much smoother.”
Harper said the three hour simulation, although it took up a significant part of the work day, provides big dividends.
“It’s an excellent learning opportunity,” Harper explained. “It’s also an excellent networking opportunity. We want all of the private sector-public sector agencies to get that face time, network with one another and learn from each other. We want to make sure it happens in a simulated environment such as today, so we don’t have to worry about doing those things in a real disaster.”
Officials pointed out that disasters can be an expensive proposition. For instance, Bay County, Florida alone had $661 million in damage from Hurricane Michael last year. Typically, the county and state would be responsible for a 25 percent match of that $661 million, but President Trump elected to do a 90/10 split, leaving the county and state only responsible for 10 percent, which equates still to $30 million that the county was responsible for.
Researchers say that the effects of Hurricane Michael were equivalent to an F3 tornado hitting the same area.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.