Virginia's first responders use recent events to train for emergencies

WIRTZ, Va. (WDBJ7) - This year has certainly seen a number of major emergencies - including intense hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings and violent protests.
But Virginia's emergency management leaders are using these incidents to prepare for more complex situations.

First responders like firefighter Chris Dean are not used to a quiet week.
But Dean's taking advantage of this educational opportunity to learn the foundations of emergency management.

"The building of the partnerships and the networking and listening to the experiences of other localities is tremendous," Dean said.

He's joined this week by firefighters, paramedics, dispatch and HAZMAT crews from around the region for this specialized course in basic emergency management, hosted by the state's Department of Emergency Management. They're learning everything from how to address the media in emergency situations to the unique capabilities of a fire rescue boat.

"Emergencies are getting more and more complex and of course they're taking on more threats," said Jeff Caldwell, Director of External Affairs for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Caldwell said this class is great for making Virginia-specific preparations. But it's also great for getting the whole state on the same page when it comes to preparing for and responding to emergencies.

"What we recognize is that the complex threats will require the cooperating of multiple agencies on the local, state, and federal level," he said.

Those complex threats include this year's destructive hurricanes, terror attacks, and the Charlottesville protests, all of which are helping shape the curriculum of these emergency management training classes.

"These types of local protests can become very big very quickly," he noted.

Dean said he's glad that this week he's been ab;e to meet key partners he can rely on for future incidents.

"We can pick up the phone and make a phone call and get some guidance," Dean said. "And that's the basis for emergency management to be able to share information back and forth."

Dean said he's also enjoyed conversations with peers in talking about how to address possible emergencies with passenger rail, especially since Amtrak is back in Roanoke.

But looking toward the future, Caldwell said they'll be focused on preparing not just for natural disasters, but cyber attacks, civil unrest, and complex terror attacks.