Group gathers for disaster training

GREENFIELD — A private plane with a dozen passengers is heading home from a mission trip in a coastal African nation. Someone on board starts displaying symptoms of Ebola, and the plane is instructed to stop at Indianapolis Regional Airport on Mt. Comfort Road.

This hypothetical medical emergency was at the center of a tabletop exercise held this week by members of the Hancock County COAD, or Community Organizations Active in Disaster. Nearly 20 community members, each involved with local nonprofits or public safety groups, gathered at the county’s Emergency 911 Center to share ideas about what to do to prepare for disaster.

The COAD, formed in 2013, is dedicated to streamlining the aid local nonprofits offer in a crisis situation. It provides food, water and shelter to the victims, first-responders and volunteers who are helping get the community back on its feet after a disaster — taking care of all the “non-critical clutter” that pops up, director Jim Peters said.

The practice session conducted this week piggy-backed on one hosted by the county’s emergency management and health departments in early March where the same scenario was practiced by first-responders, including police and fire officials, health care professionals and other county officials.

The medical-emergency scenario the group was presented with at the practice session required members to walk through what to do to help care for the 12 individuals that needed medical monitoring for an extended period of time. Because those suspected of contracting Ebola must be quarantined, the group assembled a list of facilities that could be used to house the plane’s passengers and how best to provide them with food, clothing and hygiene products.

The exercise drew participants from many facets of the community who felt they could contribute to disaster relief. A catering company detailed the food it could provide, while a faith-based group offered to use its connections with a clothing ministry.

Representatives from the Indianapolis International Airport, which oversees the Mt. Comfort location, lent expertise about procedures for keeping disease from spreading among passengers.

Jerry Guise, a firefighter with the Indianapolis International Airport, said he was impressed by the preparedness plan in Hancock County. It’s a matter of when an disaster with will strike, not if, he said; and having community leaders in place to keep residents ready for the unpredictable can only make a community more stable in those times of need.

It’s important for the COAD to prepare for disasters in tandem with professional first-responders, Buck Creek Township Fire Chief Dave Sutherlin said.

Because local police and firefighters will be distracted while dealing with the immediate threat to the community, they will rely on the COAD to handle everything else that pops up and take the lead in the recovery efforts that follow, he said.

As the COAD nears its third birthday, its leaders say they are reflecting on the great progress made in developing the organization so far. Still, there is work to be done, Peters said. The COAD is always inviting new members into its fold and is seeking monetary donations from the community to help establish a $1,000 annual operating budget, he said.

For further information about the Hancock County COAD or to volunteer, call Peters at 317-372-2304 or visit the group’s website hancockcoad.org.

To make a donation to the Hancock County COAD, contact the Hancock County Community Foundation at 317-462-8870.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.