Emergency disaster drill planned in Jefferson City

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JEFFERSON CITY - The state of Missouri will continue to take steps toward emergency preparedness Tuesday with a youth-oriented disaster exercise in Jefferson City.

The drill is part of the third annual Children and Youth in Disasters Conference that will take place Tuesday and Wednesday at Jefferson City's Capitol Plaza Hotel.

As part of the two-day conference, attendees will take part in the disaster drill Tuesday afternoon, which will involve a mass evacuation of the hotel, transportation to an off-site location, reunification and a mass feeding exercise, according to a press release.

The participants come from various fields in child services, including juvenile justice, first responders, childcare agencies and mental health providers. As part of the drill, some will play the part of children and simulate a character role assigned to them.

"We think it will be probably one of the first of its kind," said Deb Hendricks, the statewide volunteer coordinator for the State Emergency Management Agency, or SEMA. "This is new in Missouri and, to my knowledge, I don't know of any place else that has done this. We think we're breaking some ground, but mostly it's just helping us do better for the families of Missouri when there is a real disaster."

Hendricks said Missouri received praise after the 2011 Joplin tornado for its reunification efforts and its handling of children's issues. Reunification is the returning of children to their parents or guardians following separation during an emergency or disaster situation.

"We became somewhat of a leader in the country in this area," Hendricks said. "It was not formalized at that time. Since that point, we have done our best, through these conferences, to make a more formalized plan for children and youth in disasters."

About 150 people from around the state will participate in Tuesday's exercise, which will start in the Capitol Plaza Hotel before participants are evacuated to the nearby First United Methodist Church for reunification and food, with meals provided by the American Red Cross.

"The best planning for disasters occurs in a time when there is no disaster," Hendricks said. "We tend to react in the way that we train. By training and thinking ahead of time, that makes all of us better prepared when an actual disaster occurs."

The exercise begins at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and Hendricks said it should not impact anybody who is not involved with the drill.