By: Robert Keller
On June 28, the Providence Emergency Management Agency, or PEMA, orchestrated the largest full scale evacuation drill in the Rhode Island city’s history, according to Mayor Angel Taveras. To test the READY Providence initiative for the upcoming national preparedness month, Operation SMART EXITtook form. The operation took PEMA preparedness and planning to a higher level of excellence. Peter Gaynor, agency director, incorporated additional support from local, state, and federal agencies to ensure the successful of the drill.
FEMA supported the drill from the start by reviewing PEMA’s plans and maps, while facilitating city and state needs. Once the preparation was deemed complete by Gaynor, FEMA’s Robert Pesapane and Robert Keller relocated to the federal building at One Federal Center. At that location, Pesapane and Keller collaborated with the Federal Protective Service and building managers to guarantee the safety of federal employees on site during the evacuation.
At 11:30 the evacuation call was sounded, followed by the activation of the building’s internal fire alarm by the Providence Fire department. The average time to clear a building was 7:25 minutes According to PEMA officials.
Evacuating a structure must become a habitual action for all organizations and occupants. Repetition is the key to success; therefore, drills like Operation SMART EXIT creates a subconscious muscle memory function in each participant.
Evacuees relocate to the Providence, R.I., City Hall rendezvous point during Operation SMART EXIT. Photo by Jenn Bonin.