Disaster Drill Lets Cozad Area Communities Practice for Tornadoes


Cozad officials started planning Saturday’s disaster drill back in January, but they say with two Nebraska communities devastated recently, they realize a destructive tornado is a reality they could very well face.

Though skies were clear, the outdoor warning sirens sounded in Cozad around 1 p.m. It was the start to the full-scale tornado drill involving 30 victims in make-up and fake blood, and dozens of first responders.

"The tornado will hit, and from there we'll all meet down here [at the school] and we'll make a plan,” explains Cozad Rescue Chief Marlene Williams. “Then search and rescue will start after we set up our incident command and get everything set up for them. As soon as we're ready to treat, that's when we can send people out to start bringing us victims."

Utility vehicles are used to bring the injured out of the disaster zone. Then medics sort and treat them in the triage area as ambulances from other towns arrive to take the patients to area hospitals.

It’s a new situation for many of these volunteers used to responding directly to the scene.

"None of us on this crew has actually been through a tornado, so we really don't know how we'd react, that's why we're doing this training,” says Cozad Fire Chief Steve Bihlmaier.

Williams says involving neighboring communities can add to the confusion, but in a mass casualty event, it’s help they’ll want and need.

"I think that's going to be our biggest goal today is to be able to communicate with everyone and make this work,” she says.

Rescuers say there’s no way to ever by fully prepared, but this is a start.

"I think if this did happen we would probably be completely lost, but it'll start coming back to us - okay, we did this, we did this, we need to do that, and I still think it will help us be more prepared,” says Williams.

"It's like everything we do - we respond to it the way we can, so that's why we're doing the training,” says Bihlmaier.

After running through the search and rescue, triage, and transport scenario, the crews went to a simulated debris field with wrecked cars, downed trees, and dummies so firefighters could practice with rescue tools they don’t get to use very often, like the Jaws of Life.

Crews and medical facilities in Eustis, Loomis, Overton, Lexington, Farnam, and Gothenburg were also involved in the drill.

City utility crews also followed the drill to deal with leaking gas and downed power lines. Williams says the nursing home used the mock tornado warning as a chance to practice moving their residents too.