First responders train for earthquake

Rescue teams prepare to move a "victim" during a training exercise Saturday afternoon. Officials say more than 300 personnel took part in the exercise.

Officials say more than 300 emergency personnel were on the scene of a simulated earthquake Saturday.

Chuck Leake, a battalion chief with the Boone County Fire Protection District and the exercise's incident commander, told KRCG 13 the scenario involved an earthquake hitting Boone County around 5 a.m. Personnel had to locate victims and survivors in a collapsed retirement home, apartment complexes and a parking garage. He said units from all over Missouri and parts of Illinois, including the Missouri National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol, were on hand for the exercise.

"Any time that we can get together these different organizations, all coming from different walks of life and with different focuses, any time that we can get together to improve communications, all of which better servces the citizens of the state of Missouri," he said.

During the exercise, conducted at the Boone County Fire Protection District training center just north of Columbia, personnel negotiated piles of concrete debris, in some cases cutting right through the concrete to get at the victims. Teams carefully lifted dummies onto stretchers and carried them to safety.

Leake said exercises like this teach first responders how to work with different agencies ahead of an actual crisis. He said Task Force 1 has done the earthquake drill several times. Over time, Department of Defense assets have played a greater role in the exercises by providing aerial reconnaissance. Leake said this allows first responders to get a better idea of what is going on on the ground.

Of all the lessons that have come out of the exercises, Leake said one of the most important is communication among all the teams taking part. He said every element has to be able to coordinate its role, even the mortuary teams.

"We don't like to think about American or Missouri citizens dying in an event like this, but they do," he said. "We saw that in Joplin. You look at any of the events we've had in the past, it's going to occur."

The exercise continues through Sunday morning.