State, local agencies test Rally Emergency Operations Center in Sturgis
PIERRE, S.D. – A first-ever Emergency Operations Center activated during the 2013 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally worked well and will be invaluable for public safety with the large crowds expected for the 75th rally in 2015, state and local officials say.
Several state and local agencies and the South Dakota National Guard joined forces to use a multi-agency coordination system and operate an EOC during the just-concluded rally. It's the first time an EOC has been established to support local agencies and responders during the annual gathering of motorcycles and crowds.
"Truthfully, with so many people in a relatively small area, we have been fortunate we haven't had a major incident,'' said Trevor Jones, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. "Some estimates say the 75th rally could draw a crowd the size of South Dakota. We can't rely on good fortune alone to assure the safety of those people.''
For several years the state has activated an EOC during disasters or emergencies such as blizzards or flooding. In such instances, the EOC functions to support local responders by assuring dependable communication, receiving and disseminating accurate and timely information and coordinating personnel and resources in response to an incident or emergency.
The rally EOC is intended to serve those same functions. Personnel in the EOC don't take over an incident. They support local agencies when the resources of those agencies threaten to be overwhelmed by an event.
Working alongside service members from the South Dakota National Guard, the rally EOC set up operations at the Joint Force Headquarters Readiness Center on Camp Rapid.
"Our relationship with city, county and state emergency management agencies is important in order to protect the citizens of our state, as well as its visitors," said Lt. Col. James Selchert, director of Military Support to Civilian Authorities. "Our facility here provides a centralized location to effectively communicate with local officials to best support their response plan."
A medical or public-health emergency during a rally would require a quick and coordinated response from many different agencies, including local hospitals, ambulance services, medical personnel and other first responders across the Black Hills. Providing such a response takes considerable planning and advance preparations, said Doneen Hollingsworth, Secretary of the Department of Health.
"That's why we've worked with our health care partners for several years now to develop and exercise response plans for all kinds of public health threats, including a potential emergency at the rally,'' Hollingsworth said. "The time to prepare for a possible public-health emergency or mass-casualty incident is before you are in response mode. This year's rally EOC advances our preparations one step further.''
During the 2013 rally, staff in the EOC gathered information from local officials on a variety of topics, compiled a situation report and distributed that back to all local and state personnel involved in the operation. A typical report would include information on weather conditions and forecasts, rally and non-rally events in the region that could be expected to draw large crowds, traffic flow and back-ups, fire conditions, any public-health concerns, availability or shortage of critical resources ranging from water supplies and power to ambulances and hospital occupancy.
Meade County Chief Deputy Tom Wilts said the EOC structure can provide a big-picture look at rally impacts across the entire Black Hills region.
"As the rally has grown and spread, so has the need for a broad, multi-agency response,'' Wilts said. "Our citizens are best served and best protected if the state is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us at the local level.''
Local and state officials will assess the operation of the EOC during the past rally to identify strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to make the operation even more effective in future rallies.
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