BELTON — Disaster struck Bell County Friday as a major Balcones Fault earthquake ripped through Central Texas and caused major damage.
The fictional incident was part of a disaster drill for students at Belton High School’s ninth-grade center tasked with organizing response efforts.
“We are calling this disaster day and it is a culminating activity for the first unit, which was physical geography,” said Geoffrey McKenzie, ninth-grade world geography teacher. “Really, the purpose is to get them thinking about what would have to happen (in this situation), prioritizing those things and then coming up with long-term solutions that would have to be solved on the back end, that as a freshman in high school, maybe you are not thinking about.”
The project was organized by the school. Members of local disaster relief organizations helped students learn what goes on in these sorts of incidents.
Students were split up into 11 groups, each representing a different real organization having to deal with the fictional disaster. Students had to think of how the organization they represented, ranging from local emergency services to groups like the American Red Cross, would deal with the disaster.
Members of Fort Hood’s 36th Engineer Brigade and Field Artillery Squadron, 3rd U.S. Cavalry (the Steel Squadron), along with non-profit disaster relief organization Team Rubicon, were in attendance at Friday’s event. Leaders hoped to share what they did and what groups like theirs do during disasters.
Participants in the project talked to members of these two organizations to better understand what their roles were in this crisis and what the focus should be in both the short and long term.
“Two things that I had outlined, long-term wise, after a national disaster was the two S’s — safety and stability,” Capt. Asael Flores of the 36th Engineer Brigade said. “After a national disaster, once the fog dies down, (you) have to make sure everything is safe and everyone is in a safe place.”
Members of Team Rubicon — a nationwide disaster relief organization composed of mostly former military members — said most Texas cities are extremely unprepared or underprepared when it comes to dealing with disasters.
“This area is no different from most of the rest of Texas,” Team Rubicon Texas State training officer Michael Shenk said. “Local governments are woefully unprepared for a disaster at a large scale. The average local government is connected by volunteers and there is not a robust emergency response capability in Texas towns, and America in general.”
The Balcones Fault, which roughly runs along Interstate 35 from Dallas to South Texas, has been inactive for millions of years.
Shenk said that the state government and relief organizations often bear the brunt of disaster management since some communities are unprepared.
Students at the event, such as ninth-grader Tenley Stone, said that they had never thought of a disaster happening to them in Belton.
“I am hoping to learn how natural disasters are caused and how to help after,” Tenley said, adding that he hopes to have similar events at school again. “I didn’t know that there was a fault line so close (to Belton), so that was an eye opener. I (also) didn’t know that there were so many agencies to help with national disasters, because I never thought of any of these disasters happening in Texas.”