ROCHELLE – More than 20 different police, fire, medical and emergency agencies in Lee and Ogle counties participated in a full-scale tornado disaster drill Wednesday, including members of Dixon’s fire and police departments.
The drill included hundreds of volunteers, mostly students from Ashton-Franklin Center High School, where crews simulated a building collapse.
Three other scenes along eastern Lee County and western Ogle County simulated different scenarios, from the derailment of a train carrying ethanol to a school bus blown over by strong winds.
Personnel from as far as Rockford and Freeport to the north and Sublette to the south joined in the drill.
Improving lines of communication was the biggest takeaway, said drill coordinator Terry Inman, a Rochelle Police investigator.
“Some of the chaos during the exercise we created, and some of it, such as radio interruptions, were a surprise,” Inman said. “Those surprises will help us better prepare and adjust our communication.”
One of the missions of the drill was to evaluate communication and coordination between Lee and Ogle counties, especially at the mock train derailment, Inman said.
While the exercise was held near the intermodal facility in Rochelle, it was simulated to occur right on the border.
“We had to determine which agencies for which counties would be doing what,” Inman said. “We wanted to get that practice and determine which resources would be best.”
Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad, whose company participates in hundreds of these drills annually, said large-scale disaster drills can help build relationships with agencies that may not have known each other existed before Wednesday.
“I bet today some of these places didn’t know who they could call for an ethanol spill,” Davis said. “With all these agencies participating, you learn which agencies have certain equipment or expertise.”
At AFC, a gymnasium collapse was simulated and an evacuation of students took place. Students wore face paint to portray cuts and other fake injuries.
A triage was set up and 96 students simulated minor injuries.
Technical rescue crews were on site to clear debris from the top of two old cars wedged against an old shed at the school.
Byron Fire Chief Galen Bennett explained the crews would spend hours calculating debris removal in a manner to not further injure victims.
In a second phase of the drill, police crews followed fire and ambulance personnel after the evacuation to secure the area.
Overall, Rochelle Mayor Chet Olson reported the drill as a success. Olson and Public Information Officer Jennifer Thompson also conducted a mock news conference at Rochelle City Hall.
“You can never have the perfect plan,” Olson said. “What we did [Wednesday] is work closer to that goal.”