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Macon Ready: Local leaders begin FEMA training in Maryland

EMMITSBURG, Md. -- Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Macon-Bibb County leaders, first responders and emergency managers are learning lessons others realized in the heat of some of the nation’s worst disasters.

A delegation from the public and private sectors are attending the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute where they will work through a simulated disaster exercise this week.

Only the FEMA instructors know the full extent of incidents that will put preparedness to the test.

“When the lights go out, that’s when you start to shine,” said Charles Coney, Macon-Bibb’s assistant county manager, who welcomed the group.

As training began, a mock tornado watch was launched as the first clue of the pending simulation that would immerse participants into the real logistical roles they would perform in a catastrophe.

“I’ve learned death by PowerPoint is not how adults learn,” said Shannondor Marquez, an emergency management trainer who traveled to Macon earlier this year to develop an authentic scenario for Bibb County.

Macon-Bibb County EMA Director Don Druitt said his office began the training application process 18 months ago.

Over the past five years, Druitt has reorganized the emergency management operation and redesigned the Emergency Operations Center, which includes the latest technology in disaster preparedness.

“This week you’re going to be able to use a lot of those tools that we’ve already worked together on to tweak our plans, to make better relationships with the partners we have... to make the citizens of Bibb County more safe and more prepared,” Druitt said.

The intensive training program is offered only a handful of times a year, with FEMA picking up the cost of tuition, airfare and lodging.

In addition to Macon-Bibb County workers, trainees represent local utilities, hospitals, the Bibb school system, Central Georgia Technical College, Mercer University police, public health, the University of Georgia Extension, Division of Family and Children Services, amateur radio operators and volunteers.

“What we learn here today, we have to take back to our communities,” Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Al Tillman said.

The superintendent of Emergency Management Institute, Tony Russell, encouraged the participants to build better relationships during the week on FEMA’s campus tucked in the hills near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve seen the horrors of bad decision making,” Russell said of his experience that included working on Hurricane Katrina.

The instructors are not the only ones with valuable knowledge, he said.

“Learn from each other, please. Take the time, because it’s very rare that you are able to come to a place to invest in yourself and not have to go and do things at home.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and on Twitter@liz_lines.

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