As reports come pouring in from the cities and towns in Oklahoma destroyed by the path of the tornado, many were wondering what was being done to rescue people and save as many structures as possible. The tornado struck just outside Oklahoma City on Monday, May 20, and was upgraded to a category EF-5, the strongest type of tornado the following day. The deadly storm destroyed buildings, leveled homes, injured hundreds and killed, at last report, 24 people, reports The Washington Post. The damage caused by the tornado is expected to reach approximately $2 billion. Oklahoma is considered the heart of the tornado valley.
On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent a crew of personnel to Oklahoma, according to the news source. Three search-and-rescue teams arrived early that morning and met with a liaison to the state's emergency-response center the day before the tornado ripped through the area. In addition, the agency also sent over incident-management teams to provide technical assistance in any way that local and state officials might need.
President Barack Obama has also pledged to provide as much aid as possible to the communities of Moore and other towns impacted by the storm. The Week reports that the president signed a disaster declaration that will allow the Emergency Management Agency to provide temporary housing and to offer loans and grants to businesses and homeowners. The region is also expected to receive direct material assistance with food, water and other supplies, which will be distributed to those most in need.
Coordinating efforts at such a large scale between federal, state and local agencies requires extensive planning and training. The Gainesville Sun reports that the National Guard and other first responders were hard at work to pull people from the debris, triaging, treating injuries and disposing any hazardous materials at Camp Blanding. The training that went into place to ensure first responders and National Guard troops knew what to do was referred to as Vigilant Guard.
Georgia National Guard Col. Vernon Atkinson told the news source that troops learned on Monday how valuable training is in the face of deadly tornadoes.
"This morning everybody got up, and now we know why we do what we do," Adkinson told the news source. "Morale is high – everybody is jumping in."
The Vigilant Guard is an annual training exercise that is held in different locations across the country. The Gainesville News reports that the training effort includes the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the local Emergency Management team to prepare troops on how to deal with large disasters like tornados or hurricanes.
The goal of the overlapping agency training exercise is to educate officials and participants about what works best in a disaster situation. The simulation of a town torn apart is in-depth – shipping containers are even stacked on top of each other at odd angles to give the appearance of collapsing buildings, according to the news source. The training has cost the federal government about $1 million over the past four years. However, the cost is justified when considering how effective it is when coming into a disaster situation like the one in Oklahoma and immediately hitting the ground running on rescue efforts.
"As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead," Obama said on Tuesday, according to The Week. "The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them, as long as it takes."