By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Last week there were blue skies and a few rainclouds outside, but inside the Indian River County emergency operations center there was a whirlwind of activity.
Local emergency responders participated in a statewide drill for a mock hurricane to practice administrative response to a disaster. On May 23, members of the media were invited to participate and observe some of the exercise.
Mock Hurricane Kirk impacted Indian River County and approximately 5,000 residents sought refuge in evacuation shelters, and several major roads and bridges were closed in the exercise.
Assistant Chief Brian Burkeen, public information officer of the Indian River County Fire Rescue, along with other public information officers from the area, described how they share the most up-to-date information during an emergency.
The Vero Beach Police Department, the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Forest Service and Indian River County emergency services all have public Facebook pages where they post important information if there is electricity, Mr. Burkeen said.
County fire rescue and the Florida Forest Service also have Twitter feeds where information can be broadcasted in real time, he said.
If there is a loss of power, the emergency operations center can still operate, and volunteer HAM radio operators are on hand to help with communication, as they were in the 2004 hurricanes, Mr. Burkeen said.
As part of the exercise, the Facebook page for the emergency services division kept the public updated on the mock hurricane, and invited people to write and describe what their response to such a storm would be, he said.
Instead of isolating the exercise to just administrators, individuals from the community were able to participate in the event by calling a mock dispatch center with scripted needs so the people on the receiving end could practice how to handle them.
"An involved and prepared community is a resilient community," said Joan Rivera of the Indian River County health department.
For more information about the Indian River Emergency Services department, visit www.irces.com.