- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Months of planning and coordination between Virginia's Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the Prince William County government will culminate today with the last of three days of testing Prince William's disaster-response readiness.

The state-run and funded Local Emergency Management Operations Course (LEMOC) began on Wednesday at Prince William's county complex, which includes its 10,000-square-foot Emergency Operations Center.

More than 80 representatives from numerous public agencies and some private agencies attended.

"This is to show them what we'd want them to do in the event of a real emergency," said Tom Hadjuk, deputy coordinator for Prince William's emergency services.

The training was meant to prepare the county for manmade or natural catastrophes.

"This is a real important responsibility of county government," said County Executive Craig Gerhart.

Planning began in January for the three days of classes and training exercises ramping up to today, when simulated information involving local weather conditions and international news will come to a headwith today's drill.

Each of the attendees will be forced to respond to news of heavy rains, flooding, and a tornado, as if the events were real.

It is a chance for the county's many agencies the Fire and Rescue Department, county police, county schools, Potomac Hospital and public works to see what they need, and who they need to work with, in the event of a major catastrophe.

"If you don't learn now, you're going to learn the hard way," said Hadden Culp, Prince William County Fire and Rescue spokesman.

Mr. Gerhart said Prince William's Office of Emergency Services requested VDEM's course last summer, and that it was not a reaction to the events of September 11.

VDEM has conducted 12 LEMOC courses since 1997, said the course's coordinator and co-creator, Curt Nellis.

The advantage to VDEM's course is that it does not take county officials away from their responsibilities, and it allows them to practice on their own equipment and systems.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has adopted a version of the LEMOC course and now distributes it nationally.

Mr. Nellis said that September 11 has affected the "overall awareness" of those responsible for disaster response, especially nonimmediate responders, like public works.

"Their eyes have been opened to the need to coordinate with so many other people other than those in their little world," said Mr. Nellis.

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