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SE Idaho prepares for potential natural disasters

Annual Disaster Drill Training

POCATELLO, Idaho - In the wake of the 42 earthquakes hitting around the Challis area in the past month, one organization is deciding to make sure everyone is prepared in case a larger quake were to strike.

On Wednesday, the Southeastern Idaho Public Health department held its annual "Spring Thing Program" which gathered 23 counties across the region to discuss the best ways to keep folks safe during a natural disaster while quickly getting them the necessary resources.

The organization's health care liaison Denise O'Farrell said this annual table top training is part of a five-year plan that will culminate in 2017, ending in a large-scale, realistic exercise.

"Right now patient tracking is our biggest concern, because when Hurricane Katrina hit, patients were flown so far away, their families had no idea where they were," O'Farrell said. "In fact, some of those refugees were flown here to Idaho and many of them are still here."

She also mentioned communication and working with other counties to easily and quickly access alternative resources is a crucial point the group will be discussing, along with how to open-up more bed space in the scenario one hospital fills up.

"Federal guidelines ask that we put together a plan to move patients out of the hospitals for the victims and provide 20% more bed space in the region within four hours. But that shouldn't be too much of a concern," O'Farrell added.

Pocatello City Councilman Gary Moore said the city has many alternative care facilities in the case of a natural disaster such as Holt Arena along with local schools and churches.

Other communities such as Bear Lake County are struggling to keep its head above water when it comes to providing adequate resources during a natural disaster.

Bear Lake Emergency Services Coordinator Alan Eborn said his first priority is keeping the citizens of the community safe, but it's difficult being such a small community.

"When the 911 calls continue to come in, we don't have anybody else to send, and that's when we are starting to sink," Eborn said. "We have called out our ambulances, our fire, our EMS, our law enforcement, and we have more calls coming in than we have the ability to respond, because we don't have anybody."

Eborn said the majority of emergency personnel in the county are all volunteers, and since the community is so small, the majority of resources will be sent to larger communities such as Pocatello and Idaho Falls during a natural disaster.

O'Farrell said during the ten years she has been working with the organization, funding has been significantly decreasing, so they will continue to work with what little resources they have until the 2017 practice day.

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