Abbottville Exercise Teaches Disaster Management

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There’s been a disaster in the fictional town of Abbottville and responders from around the nation have been summoned to help fight the fires, tend to the injured and rescue those who have been trapped by debris.

Abbottville is a scale model diorama of a community decimated by a tornado that has flattened the town’s residential section, severely damaged the high school and trapping 71 students inside the gym, derailing a train, wiped out the commercial district and generally wreaked havoc.

The model is owned by Don Abbott and his wife Bev. The couple runs a business called Command Emergency Response Training. The Abbotts brought the model, which is 1/87 scale (close to HO model railroading size), to Firehouse Central and erected it on several table tops for class attendees to work on the simulated disaster.

“This course is for anyone who would respond to a disaster,” Don Abbott said. “It’s for firefighters, EMTs, police officers, public works directors anyone who deals with disasters.”

For the Firehouse Central show, Abbott simulated a tornado, but he has done a variety of other scenarios, including flooding with actually submersion. And, for the Firehouse World conference in San Diego, he’ll simulate an earthquake.

“We try to simulate what is going on in a real emergency,” Abbott said.

Participants are issued radios and scale models of the equipment they might need to respond to the situation. Fire trucks, cruisers and ambulances are issued to participants and they must negotiate debris, by clearing it and driving around it. If the drivers don’t they’ll suffer flat tires and the correlating delays in response.

The Abbotts do their best to create real life scenarios including sound effects and live fire. Helicopter noises reverberate in the room making communications challenging as news teams try to get the story. Responders must figure out ways of dealing with the distractions, like news teams looking for interviews and frantic parents looking for their children at the damaged high school.

Abbottville will also be in Baltimore in July for Firehouse Expo for the four-hour class which also includes some classroom work.

Don Abbott retired as a Division Chief with the Warren Township Fire Department in Indianapolis, Ind., after 25 years of service. He formed CERT and used his tabletop diorama to teach emergency management to firefighters, EMS providers and a variety of other groups, including government agencies for 10 years.In 2001, he moved to Phoenix and became project manager at Command Training Center. Abbott is now retired from the Phoenix, Abbott has resurrected his business and Abbottville continues in a perpetual state of disaster.