The very real case scenario of how the county would react in the event of the breach of one of the dams on area lakes was presented to the Sharp County Judge, Sheriff, OEM Coordinator, mayors of Cherokee Village and Highland, Cherokee Village SID, Hidden Valley Property Owners Association, Cherokee Village Fire Department, Road and Street and Police departments, Homeland Security and members of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The massive number of participants in the exercise would all be required to respond in the event of this type of disaster.
The very detailed scenario that was presented outlined the chain of command in the event one of the dams in the area was to break. The plan went into action just after 9 a.m. when a mass phone message was sent from the Sharp County Sheriff's Department's AlertXpress system simultaneously to all residents on East and West Lakeshore Drive in Cherokee Village and all businesses in Town Center who would be in danger had the event been an actual emergency situation. The message was a Practically Instantaneous Failure (PIF) message precomposed by Sharp County Detective Sergeant Ken Guidry, who is in charge of the system for the sheriff's department. Guidry, whose number is also on the list for testing purposes, said his cell phone rang ___ minutes after the system initiated the call.
Guidry explained that AlertXpress is a very versatile software system the department uses in collaboration with numerous other county entities who work with disaster situations. The system provides the department with nearly limitless options in regard to case scenarios to help keep the public safe in the event of an emergency or disaster type situation, many of which templates with complete call lists of area residents are already completed.
Guidry said the templates, very similar in nature to a database program, allow him to enter phone numbers and street addresses of residents in the county for the computer to contact and warn them of impending disasters. During Tuesday's drill, residents who received the message were instructed to press a specific number on their phone. The act of pressing the number alerts the system of who has received the message. Guidry said it is very important that residents supply the department with the most probable number at which they may be contacted, but can include several numbers including cellular and home numbers. If the call goes unanswered, the system is set up to redial the number a specific number of times. He also said the calls are routed through the path of least resistance, therefore it may take anywhere from a few seconds to less than three minutes for residents to receive the PIF message. He said they can also be sent via various other means including fax and text messages, but the realistic voice seems to be the most effective in alerting citizens.
Guidry said the drill allowed the sheriff's department to update numbers of residents in the areas that would be affected. The entire county seemed to be busy all morning as rain fell and clouds grayed the sky. Cherokee Village Fire Chief Mike Taylor said the drill was a three tier operation that was designed as a learning tool for all departments to better prepare them in the event of an actual disaster. He said following the AlertXpress call, the Cherokee Village Police Department then went around the lake on East and West Lakeshore, Town Center, Nokanda Road and by Star Falls alerting residents with the P.A. system on their patrol cars, being sure to include phrases informing citizen's it was only a drill. Following the police was the fire department, who checked on homes where they did not see activity. He said if the dam on Lake Mirandy was to break, it would cause overflow into Cherokee's Lake Sequoyah first, which would flood town center and both east and West Lakeshore, Nokanda Road and the Star Falls area, but would then also flood areas surrounding Lake Cherokee. Taylor said the weather was perfect for this type of drill.
While the mobile incident command center was placed near the Thunderbird Marina parking lot, the Cherokee Village Fire Department and central dispatch directed the training exercise. The group used actual radio and telephone calls to make the disaster drill as real to life as possible, but included the phrase it was an "emergency action exercise" to avoid causing panic. An observation center was set up at Thunderbird Recreation Center monitoring the calls and communication between the Sharp County Sheriff's Department's central dispatch, the Cherokee Village Fire and Police Department as well as any communication from the Office of Emergency Management for training purposes.
Following the exercise, officials gathered to critique the drill and said the session went very well. By allowing emergency personnel to recognize potential problems, it also gave the department an opportunity to update phone numbers of residents. These records were outdated and by updating the phone numbers, it would allow the county to better prepare residents in the event of an actual dam break.