116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids Incident Management Team prepares for large-scale emergency responses
The city of Cedar Rapids hosted a municipal training exercise Thursday that involved simulating a large-scale emergency response and provided a sneak peek into what happens behind the scenes when city agencies team up to respond to emergencies.
Members of various city agencies — including the police department, fire department, public works, and other municipal agencies — are part of the Incident Management Team, which, in the case of emergency, gathers at the Incident Command Post, a room in the Central Fire Station downtown.
The more than 50-member team gathered Thursday to play out a fake emergency scenario. At the beginning of the training, team members were told that an unknown terrorist organization was threatening to take out every government building in the country, and claimed to have placed explosives containing radiation in government buildings in several states. The terrorist group claimed the explosives were all going to go off at the same time — about three hours from when the communication was sent out. A couple of these dirty bombs had already been found in Ohio and Michigan.
And with that information, the team got to work. First, they divided members into several groups based on each person’s role in their city department. The groups included logistics, operations, finance, future plans, and communications.
While imaginary emergency responders in the field updated the team on the ongoing situation, the groups created plans to ensure public safety, prepare for possible community panic and communicate with media representatives about the ongoing situation.
The training exercise was put together by Atchison Consulting Service, the same company who worked with the city to create an after action report analyzing the emergency derecho response in 2020.
Cathleen Atchison, the owner of the consulting agency, said the scenario, although a little extreme, was designed to test some of the lessons the city has learned from past emergency response situations, and improve on the strengths the emergency team already has.
“The city committed to looking at the effectiveness of their current plans, policies and procedures around a disaster response, and as we’ve been working with the city now for a while, we don’t necessarily just look at one specific hazard, but we look at all hazards,” Atchison said.
After the exercise, the team discussed what they learned and what they felt they could improve for future emergency response scenarios. Atchison observed the entire training and will be providing the city with an after action report about what strengths and areas for improvement she noticed.
“I was hearing and seeing a lot of wonderful coordination,” Atchison said after the exercise. “And for folks who are newer to the city, being able to engage in an environment where they feel safe to ask questions.”
Atchison said she first started talking with the city about putting together a training exercise like this in July 2022. There was a lot of coordination involved between various city departments and the consulting agency to understand what different departments wanted to gain from the experience.
Some of the things the city wanted to focus on after the 2020 derecho included creating and working off a solid plan, internal communication between public safety agencies and city organizations, and external communication with the public and media organizations, according to Assistant Fire Chief Andy Olesen, who served as the incident commander for the training.
Olesen said he has been part of the fire department for many years and has seen several large-scale emergency response situations. He said the more training responders have for those situations, the better and more efficient the city’s response will be.
“If you have a team like this, one of the things that you have to do is exercise it … The folks that work here have all, for the most part, responded to some of the largest natural disasters our state’s ever seen. But a lot of times, they had a different job at that time,” Olesen said. “So now we’re going to run some practices, run some exercises. We’re going to move into different roles with different responsibilities. We want to get some reps with that so we’re good at it when the next incident occurs.”
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