What started out as a regular day in Iowa ended up turning into a real wake up call for the community. Every so often, disaster exercises are scheduled to see how everyone in a community will respond and how all the organizations (such as local government, county government, city government, hospitals, school district and businesses) will deal with an emergency in the case that it really did happen. This type of exercise is common as is carried out several times a year.
The planned scenario was that a bioterrorist event was unfolding at a sold out concert at the local event center. All of the actors arrived and were briefed on the activities of the day and at exactly 9 AM the exercise began.
Once the exercise began, the first call went out to the local 911 Center to let them know that something was happening at the event center. The caller said that approximately 130 people were showing signs of breathing problems and the 911 operator started going through the normal fact finding questions to assess the situation. A few minutes into the call the operator said that her computer started shutting down and that she was going to transfer the caller to another operator. This is when she noticed that all the other computers in the 911 center also started shutting down. At this point the police knew something was going on but just were not sure what. Within minutes they began getting calls from city and county employees from all areas such as police, fire, emergency management, financial, HR, and other city/county departments.
The first thing that they thought was happening was that a virus was released onto the City/County network to bring all the computers down. To prevent the spread and additional damage, an emergency shutdown of all equipment on the network was done. About an hour into investigating this “virus”, the 911 center found out that it was really an update from McAfee Antivirus program that was responsible for all the computers powering down.
So you would guess that because there was no 911 Center to reach and all other departments were shutting down, that the disaster exercise would be called off, right?
Well the EMS Director for the County decided to continue the exercise anyway. He began to do dispatch and communication using a 800Mhz shared radio system and successfully completed the exercise about two hours later, saving around 120 “victims.”
Thanks to McAfee, the county was forced to deal with a real disaster during their exercise and yet still proved to be effective by using the backup communication system. It was a true test of their ability to adjust to and respond to a disaster in less than perfect circumstances.