The scene inside the Lee’s Summit church looked graphic: children filing through the doors, covered in fake blood and bruises.
It was just a drill simulating the relief response to a catastrophic disaster. But the children made gory by makeup played their roles as victims convincingly.
Nate Taylor, 13, whose drawn-on wounds included a deep bruise to an eye socket and cuts to his forehead, was a mock victim separated from his parents.
“We came with a big group from a Christian school,” Nate said. “Our parents are unreachable by phone. Texts were sent but nothing was received.”
Nate’s scenario captured the essence of the drill: How can children best be reunited with their parents in the event of a catastrophe?
More than 500 volunteers and numerous agencies at the federal, state and county levels participated in the statewide disaster relief drill, many of whom participated with the goal of reunification in mind.
The Cass County Health Department participated in the drill by performing shelter inspections and food service inspections at mass feeding operations.
Amanda Prough, a preparedness planner with the Cass Health Department, said having an emergency plan and kit are crucial to avoiding danger.
Prough also advised staying connected to information sources, which the Missouri Ready in 3 program lists.
The New Madrid drill was chosen, Prough said, “because there will be a large population of people that will be displaced and will be coming to the Kansas City area to seek care and shelter.”
With significant numbers of displaced victims, many families will likely be separated.
Achieving the goal of reunification, though, will likely be a lot easier now, according to Mike Curry, Jackson County’s director of emergency preparedness.
Curry’s department wrote new protocol for an evacuee reception center, or ERC, which was implemented for the drill. At the center, children will be assigned wristbands with tracking capabilities.
During the exercise, which took place over multiple days, agencies practiced accommodating a mass exodus from the St. Louis area following a major earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone, which runs through southeastern Missouri.
Historically during catastrophes, unaccompanied minors are placed under law enforcement’s guardianship and are assigned to a juvenile detention center.
“Basically putting them in jail,” Curry said. “We’re not doing that. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Instead, Curry said children can be assigned to state agencies for up to three consecutive 24-hour periods, during which time various agencies will aim to find their parents.
The newly implemented evacuee reception center aims to expedite that process, Curry said. At the center, children, their parents and even luggage and pets will receive wristbands with barcodes that are scanned into a computer system able to track the wearer’s whereabouts at all times.
People will also be assigned to a mass shelter like the makeshift one at Crowne Point Church during the drill.
“What people don’t talk about,” Curry said, “is if people are evacuated from St. Louis, they’ll have pets and luggage. This system has the capability of tracking all three of those things.”
The drill identified a few kinks in the new system. Multiple children serving as mock victims reported feeling confused and being separated from their groups before arriving at the mass shelter at the church.
“We were all separated,” said 13-year-old Sophia Zorich, one of a group of 12 children and two adults.
Another member of the group, 13-year-old Aislinn Plumberg, said large crowds and faulty suggestions from volunteers caused her to temporarily lose some members of her group.
“It’s very confusing,” Aislinn said.
But Curry said identifying such kinks is the purpose of the drill.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” he said.