In Kentucky, Agencies Practice Response in Event of Major Earthquake

Mar. 2--A joint military exercise tested communications abilities during a pretend natural disaster -- despite an outside chance of a real one Thursday.

Wind gusts of 30-plus mph and possible tornadic weather changed some plans for the earthquake preparedness exercise based at the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport.

But the scenario involving 13 far western Kentucky counties that would be affected by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid Fault was considered a success.

"Kudos all the way around," said Brig. Gen. Michael Dornbush, the Joint Forces Air Component Commander with the Kentucky Air National Guard, at a briefing Thursday morning.

The exercise also involved the Army National Guard, the Air Force's Civil Air Patrol and state and local emergency management coordinators.

About 35 soldiers are taking part in the event, which is slated to end about noon today depending on the weather.

Some arrived Wednesday afternoon to set up equipment and practice opening and surveying the airfield.

The main goal was to test communications equipment at an airfield deemed to be the most operable following a major earthquake.

"Scientists tell us we are ripe for a quake," said Dornbush, who arrived at the airport in a large C-130 transport plane that, in a disaster, could bring in troops and/or relief supplies.

Under a scenario that included fires, damaged buildings and roads, and downed cell phone and radio towers, supplies would land in Owensboro in C-130s.

Kentucky Air National Guard Gen. Michael Dornbush, right, asks a question of Capt. Kevin Krauss with the 123rd Air Wing based in Louisville, left, during a briefing session that was part of an earthquake preparedness drill Thursday at Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport. Krauss' responsibility was to gather information on viable modes of communication in the aftermath of a 7.5-magnitude earthquake on the New Madrid Fault.

They would be transferred to Black Hawk helicopters for distribution to damaged areas, said Lt. Col. Warren Hurst with the Kentucky Air National Guard, who oversaw the local efforts.

Winds scrapped a Black Hawk flight for Hurst and other officers to the Wendell H. Ford Training Center in Greenville, where other exercise participants were based.

"We're pretty limited on what we can do with 70 mph winds," said Capt. Kevin Krauss, an Air Force intelligence officer, after the briefing in an green tent containing maps, laptops and phones.

Sites in Owensboro and Greenville, as well as Paducah, Mayfield and Madisonville, were linked by satellite with the Joint Operations Center in Frankfort.

Along with communications abilities, the briefing included reports of disaster-related needs for fueling, relocating or caring for civilians, troop support and security at the airfield.

Radio, phone and Internet communications could be provided for disaster-affected cities and counties if needed, Dornbush said.

The exercise also was an opportunity to meet with city and county officials, emergency management personnel and airfield workers in the 13 counties affected in the scenario, Dornbush said.

That would make working together easier if a disaster strikes, he said.

Copyright (c) 2007, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.