The city is teaming up with Emory-Adventist Hospital at Smyrna to hold the tornado drill and launch a new joint emergency operations center.
It’s all part of an effort by Smyrna to encourage the community to prepare for the worst under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s program called “America’s Preparathon.”
Smyrna was the first city in the nation to jump on board with the program and may become a model for cities across the nation.
Set for noon on Friday, March 21, the tornado drill is just one aspect of a community-wide program, said Smyrna Fire Deputy Chief Roy Acree, director of Smyrna’s Emergency Management Agency.
During the drill, hospital administration and local emergency responders will simulate if a tornado has hit a wing of the hospital and patients need to be evacuated. Metro Ambulance will take volunteers acting as patients to a designated place away from the campus of the hospital and return them when the storm has passed.
The drill will be the first test of a joint emergency operations center located at the hospital. Emory and Smyrna signed an agreement last fall to create the center and designate it as a single point of command during disasters in the city. The operations center is a public-private partnership, Acree said, that allows the hospital and city to consolidate efforts and share resources.
“It didn’t make sense for us to do the same exact thing two miles away,” Acree said.
Smyrna is one of two cities in the state that operates its own emergency management agency and emergency operations center. The other is Forest Park. The county’s other cities are managed under the Cobb County Emergency Management Agency.
It’s a timely drill, said Bob Crowe, assistant vice president of the hospital, with memories of icy gridlocked roads fresh in the minds of metro Atlanta residents.
Like the winter storms that hit the state in late January and early February, a tornado, an earthquake and other natural disasters typically force residents to stay in one location and hunker down until it’s safe to travel or venture outside.
“What a great time to talk about bad weather, having just went through two inclement weather incidents,” Crowe said. “Weather is on everybody’s mind.”
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon praised the city for being prepared for inclement weather and said that preparedness was put to the test during the snow and ice storm.
“We were better prepared than any other community when we had this last ice storm,” Bacon said.
Smyrna’s campaign helps prepare law enforcement and emergency responders in case of disaster but also encourages private residents and businesses to share part of the responsibility in ensuring the community is ready for disasters that could knock out power for weeks, leave roads unsafe and limit access to food and water.
“Being prepared for a disaster is a shared responsibility,” said Lea Crager, spokeswoman for FEMA.
About 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a drill at their workplace or home, apart from a fire drill, in the last two years, Crager said.
“Just do one thing,” Crager said. “Sit down with your family and talk through if certain things were to occur, what would you do?”
FEMA volunteers have been in Smyrna in recent months encouraging businesses to create their own disaster plans and put those plans into action when tornado sirens sound at noon on March 21.
“It’s great to know about what to do, but it’s better to practice,” Acree said.
Kenny’s Great Pies is one of those Smyrna companies.
The plant that produces pies for retail grocery stores and restaurants already has its own disaster plan, but Greg Muter, chief operating officer, said it’s important to put that plan into action.
“We try to be prepared for every situation,” Muter said. “Certainly you can’t be, but that’s why we take the step of testing our plan twice a year.”