If practice makes perfect, events of the past year have pushed the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services a long way toward reaching that unreachable goal.
After coordinating the statewide response to last September's terrorist attacks, OES responded to a nearly unbroken series of floods and forest fires, operating on emergency basis for 147 days.
"Each time we exercise the system, we learn a little more and get a little better," said OES Director Stephen Kappa. "Today, we're in much better shape than we were on Sept. 11 of last year."
In addition to an abundance of on-the-job training in the past year, OES has gone through a sweeping modernization program and has doubled the size of its staff to 29.
The Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the State Capitol has had a complete makeover. Last year, situation reports were compiled in 3-inch binders, and updates were grease-penciled on a glass display board. Now, OES makes use of a state-of-the-art, Web-based system that operates the same emergency software used by the FBI to manage security at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"We had the new system up and running for the May floods, and there's no doubt it helped speed up the state's response," said Kappa. "We're adding Geographic Information Systems mapping of the state's critical infrastructure developments that will give us all kinds of critical information about places like chemical plants and dams without having to make a lot of calls."
Within the next year, every county in the state will have personnel trained to remotely tie into the state system to feed in new local data and learn what's happening in other parts of the state.
"We're going from the 19th century to the 21st century in one leap," said Clay Carney, communications officer for OES and a 20-year veteran of crisis management at the OES emergency operations center.
"In one year, we've gone from handwritten messages in binders to a system where you can watch streaming, live images from the scene, and zoom in to see detailed GIS mapping," Carney said.
During the past year, OES has also built a new mobile command center, which was deployed to McDowell County during the May floods.
The mobile command center is built in what was once a Division of Tourism promotional bus, which was stripped down and rigged with high-tech communications gear worth $60,000.
The mobile center is equipped with satellite phones, computers with Internet portals, and a "smart board" display system.