Business as usual during Tuesday's fire drill
Crook County Clerk Dee Berman and her office staff obeyed when the courthouse's new fire alarm went off Tuesday morning but that didn't stop them from continuing to do their job. After leaving the courthouse in a timely manner, carrying enough equipment to do so, the county clerk's office was able to take care of business using a park bench to work from. In fact, County Surveyor David Armstrong, not involved with the fire drill, brought some papers that had to be recorded to the temporary office and that business was taken care of. After hearing about the idea from the clerk from Umatilla County during a clerk's convention, Berman said she decided to create a Disaster Plan to handle things in case of a disaster. When the alarm went off, she and her staff were ready and it was business as usual in the shadow of one of the huge elm trees in Pioneer Park. When the recently installed fire alarm in the courthouse went off Tuesday morning, everyone reacted as they should. Even people, both county employees and members of the public who were on the third floor calmly made their way down the stairs and were out of the building within about two minutes.
No "Chinese Fire Drill" - courthouse employees and members of the public caught in Tuesday's exercise reacted in a safe, responsible manner
County Emergency Management Director Greg Hinshaw said the drill did more than just test people's readiness and the new system. "It is a requirement of the state that once a year we have a drill. That protects our federal grant that pays for our Emergency Management Program."
While fire drills have been held in the past, this was the first for the alarm system, the first time for the horn and strobe light to be activated. As it is designed to do, it was a learning experience. Henshaw said a number of changes in the process of getting people out of the building will be changed. All in all, he added, it was a successful exercise.
The timing of the early morning drill had been kept secret, but some people had figured that one was coming.
County Clerk Dee Berman was one of those. "We knew there would be a fire drill once the new system was installed, but we didn't know when," she said. But Berman and her staff were more than ready to evacuate the building when necessary - she has created a special evacuation plan for the clerk's office.
Each person working in the clerk's office has a list of material that to be taken with them in case of a fire or other disaster that calls for evacuation. Tuesday, just minutes after fleeing the courthouse, Berman's staff had set up office on one of the park benches in Pioneer Park. Receipt books, the cash drawer, various clerk's stamps used to record documents and other forms were all available.
There is no reason, Berman believes, that people can not record documents or even get married or apply for a passport if necessary ... even if it means doing the work from a park bench.
"We wouldn't skip a beat," she said. "We could continue to record documents or do any of the recording functions. We could record a document right there in the park."
After the fire drill, Berman said she thought it had gone off quite well. She did have some concerns about the man who was caught in the courthouse elevator, though.
As part of the drill, firefighters were informed that someone had been trapped. Fire Chief Bob Schnoor reported that even if that scenario didn't go off as expected, emergency teams did react professionally.
"First, the elevator didn't stop between floors as it was supposed to," Schnoor said, "It stopped at one floor and the door opened automatically. And then the phone in the elevator didn't work, all the guy got was a recording."
But the overall evacuation went well, Schnoor added. "Better than we expected, and we learned from it. The problem with a drill is in getting the real effect of a disaster is hard. We had one fire truck, a few members of the sheriff's office and a couple city police officers on hand."
In a real situation there would have been more emergency teams on the scene, he added. "The county safety committee deserves a lot of credit, though, for a job well done," Schnoor said.