Local Law Enforcement Agencies Prepare For Worst Case Scenarios

What do I love about journalism? You get to experience things I know I would never get to if I wasn't in this profession. Every time I do have the opportunity to experience something, my yearn to learn just keeps on growing... yesterday was just one of those days...

For the past five months, the Columbia and Boone County Local Emergency Planning Committee had been planning and preparing for a large scale training exercise for local law enforcement agencies. The basis of the exercise is to help prepare emergency responders for the worst possible situation they can face.

Little Dixie Construction allowed agencies to use a vacant house near a large field to conduct this exercise. Inside the house, a lab was set up, along with trip wires, a fake bomb, and pretend chemical toxins. Outside they had the decontamination area set up.

As soon as the news director offered the story to me, I took it. Learning about law enforcement and how it works has always fascinated me. I have never been to a training exercise and couldn't wait to watch them in action. While there, the PIO took the reporter and photog from KMIZ and I into the home to show us how everything worked. We had a chance to watch a million dollar, 500 pound robot move about, send information back to those outside, and even climb the stairs. Like always I learned a vast amount of information that could not be included in the story, but hopefully along with the pictures, you will get the gist of what was going on. Click here to hear the story, click here to read the story on KBIA's website or read a longer version of the story below.

Boone County law enforcement agencies are now one step closer to feeling more prepared in extreme emergency situations. A number of organizations showed up yesterday to take part in an extensive training exercise. Law enforcement agencies included the local SWAT team, the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad, the Missouri Guard 7th Civil Support Team, the FBI, and the Columbia Fire and Police Departments. The agencies worked together to simulate an attempt to serve a warrant at a private residence. KBIA’s Tara Grimes reports.

Outside a vacant home in Boone County, about half a dozen emergency responders worked together to bandage up a bloodied victim. Just minutes earlier the responders rescued the victim inside the home. Other law enforcement quickly went through decontamination, removing any possible toxic chemicals from their hazmat suits. Nearby, operators controlled a robot searching inside of the house for
bombs, trip wires and other toxic chemicals. It was all in an effort to prepare emergency responders for the worst situations possible. The Columbia and Boone County Local Emergency Planning Committee started planning the training exercise five months ago. Columbia Fire Department Division Chief Terry Cassil calls the event a once in a career opportunity. He says he feels the exercise helped to find the strengths and weaknesses of those there.

“It allows us to make contacts, have familiar faces, know who’s capable of what sorts of things. So I think we’re much more prepared after the exercise than before,” Cassil said.

University Police Department Sergeant and Bomb Squad Technician Chris Groves says training exercises help responders get to know each other through teamwork before an emergency situation arises.

“Quite frankly we’re having a lot of fun just learning and interfacing with all the other units here,” Groves said.

Planning for these events are not simple though. Master Sergeant William Heikkila is the Communications Chief for the Weapons of Mass Destruction 7th Civil Support Team. He says his team travels around the country doing these types of exercises. He also says the planning is a long process.

“The time and the research is literally a 24-hour-a-day process,” Heikkila said. “From the time that we get on duty, we are continuously training or prepping the equipment. We have personnel that are either in school, prepping to go to school or they are doing training like this."

But in the end, Heikkila says he hopes the exercise will help in the future.

“The big thing that I hope for is a good joint exercise where all the agencies involved have learned something new and can master that skill and then take it on to the next exercise,” Heikkila said.

Departments train once a month, but events like this are rare. Tara Grimes, KBIA news.

Here are a few photos I shot while at the event:

Treasures Along The River

Remember the story I did on Missouri River Relief cleaning up in Jefferson City a few weeks ago?

I stumbled across an overview of the event and they were kind enough to post a link to this blog and the story. I also noticed though, that the page also includes some other great facts about how much they picked up and better yet, what they picked up.

Click on the picture below to head to their site and see what kind of treasures they found!


Downpour Of Rain Leads To Water Rescues, Road Closures

Those who went to yesterday's Mizzou game will tell you the weather was not pretty at all. The cold, freezing, torrential rain whipping at their faces and their entire outfits drenched in water was probably a very unpleasant experience. It didn't help either that Mizzou lost....

Columbia has gotten over five inches of rain since yesterday morning and it just keeps on coming. The rain isn't only causing problems for students, but the rest of Columbia as well. Before I headed into KBIA yesterday at 9 a.m., I saw that the Boone County Fire Department had been out making water rescues. So walah! My other stories had been taken, so this was it! Some stories are just as simple as that.

I spoke with the Boone County Fire District Division Chief, Boone County Public Works Maintenance Operations Manager, and a Supervisor for the 911 center at Columbia's Emergency Management Department about the rescues and road closures.

Click here to hear my story, click here to read the story on KBIA's website or read the text below. Much of the story did get cut to air (such as the strict numbers, details of road closures, how to prevent yourself from getting stuck in water, why exactly the water rescues happened ect. too much to fit into a reader) and quotes were extremely poor. I had other quotes talking about how long it would take to clean up, but another quote was used instead. I didn't really get any significant information from them that I couldn't write out myself making it tough to find a good quote. Almost a waste of already limited time if you ask me:


Pouring rain throughout the day is causing a challenge for a number of Boone County drivers. Fire District Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp says the fire department responded to four water rescues before sunrise. The Boone County Public Works department was out closing roads as well. Maintenance operations manager Chip Estabrooks says the majority of the roads are by creeks and typically aren’t used by a large number of drivers. Officials closed more than a dozen roads throughout the day. Estabrooks says because some roads were built more than a century ago it would be hard to prevent flooding.

“We have to be really careful about building up these areas. It’s quite a process for the engineering department to design roads through low lying flood plain areas," Estabrooks says.

A flash flood warning remains in effect for Boone County until 6 p.m. tonight.


A slightly different version to use of the 6 p.m. newscast:

The Boone County Public Works Department is staying busy closing roads. Officials closed more than a dozen roads throughout the day. Boone County Maintenance operations manager Chip Estabrooks says the majority of the roads closed are by creeks and typically aren’t used by a large number of drivers. The county not only faced issues with flooded roads, but drivers who tried to make it across them. Boone County Fire District Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp says the fire department responded to four water rescues before sunrise… the most significant rescue happened when a man’s vehicle hydroplaned on the roadway.

“His vehicle went off the side of the road into the ditch, started being swept away by water into the creek and he was able to escape the vehicle and self rescue into a tree and that’s where we found the victim and was able to get him out of there," Blomenkamp says.

A flash flood warning remains in effect for Boone County until 6 p.m. tonight.


*Picture taken from Flickr.com


"It's The Small Things That Change Lives"

I’ve heard too many people tell me any type of journalism work I did in high school means nothing when I get to college, but I couldn’t disagree more. Sounds like they didn’t have a journalism teacher like mine.

I first tried to join a newspaper staff in middle school, but once I learned we had to stay after school for an hour a day, once a week studying a grammar book I decided to drop out. (Who knew now I’d be so in love with grammar?) Once I got into high school I was recommended by one of my teachers to join the newspaper staff. After a bit of convincing from my older brother I jumped on board.

I quickly learned I had a love for features. Our newspaper was split up in different sections like opinion, news, a center spread, entertainment, features ect. Anytime I wrote a story, no matter what section, I always unintentionally morphed it into a feature (news is about PEOPLE). My junior year, I guess non-surprisingly, I became the feature editor of my paper. As the years went on, my passion for journalism grew, with a special thanks to my high school journalism teacher who pushed us to do the best we could. And who I truly believe could be teaching college journalism if he wanted.

When I came to college, besides trying to write a collection of features, I quickly lost sight of what I loved to do. I was also told that features weren’t that loved in the broadcast business, unless you had been in the business for a long time, were very trusted, and were good at doing them. I started writing more timely news stories. This didn’t bother me, especially because I fell in love with writing these kinds of stories as well. I’m a huge fan of breaking news and hard-hitting news as well. As time has gone on though I miss sitting down with people and divulging deep into their lives, asking them questions about anything and everything. I just accepted the fact that I probably would never be able to features (although I do still like to add a feature twist to every story I do).

But, hearing Today Show Feature Correspondent Mike Leonard talk yesterday and Lisa Ling talk a few weeks ago has been uplifting, as they made me realized features are not dying and it is possible to become a journalist that does them. As Mike said, “it’s the small things that change people.” I truly believe in this. Hard hitting news and breaking news is important, but features are just as important. Back in high school when I wrote features stories, I looked to provoke thoughts from at least one person, to get them to see life from someone else’s perspective.

Coming to college has helped to inspire my love for hard-hitting news and breaking news, but I will never lose sight of the fact that features will always be dear and near to my heart. (And why not make hard-hitting news into a feature?) In my career, I would like to be able to do both and the best thing about life is it’s an open road. You’re free to travel wherever you like. When people ask me what’s my ultimate dream--- I don’t have one. I have never aspired to be on a certain show or network; I’m just going wherever life takes me. I just want to be able to tell stories, whether it reaches a small or large audience, I just want to be able to affect at least one person’s life. I hear so many journalists aiming for a certain market number, but I feel that I just can’t do that. It’s great to have goals, but I don’t think many realize that there are stories everywhere, even in the small towns. I want to experience everything I can, no matter where it is.

High school began my love for journalism. I credit my high school teacher for taking our staff to conferences were I met journalists in the real world that continued to feed my passion for journalism as well as encouraging the staff to exercise our first amendment rights (paper was censored senior year--- we won!)

In high school there were a million stories to tell… and I don’t care how many people tell me high school doesn’t matter. I would not be here if it weren’t for high school. I would not have a love for features or news in general. And if I could, I wouldn’t change my past in journalism for anything.


I once interviewed a nurse that worked in a psychiatric ward who told me about how one day the nurses were looking for this woman and couldn’t find her. When they finally did, she was scrunched up in her narrow closet; she believed she was living on an Indian Reservation and that Indians were coming to scalp her. The fear in the woman’s eyes was unbearable. “I’ve learned to never take what you have for granted, and to appreciate gifts and abilities,” she told me. “When you’ve been around people who can’t, you learn to appreciate life so much more.”

I once met an 8-year-old African girl whose only dream was to become a nurse to help others. Despite how much she was picked on for wearing clothes different than her classmates, she wanted to be the one to save their lives. Her mother had brought her over to America to lead a better life and within six months this little girl had an ample understanding of the English language and a greater knowledge on US politics than I ever will.

I once interviewed a guy who had worked in the film industry for 22 years and laughed about the memories he had working with actors. But his past life wasn’t filled with so much happiness. “I was raised in a foster family,” he told me. “The hardest part was not knowing if someone was going to come and take me away.”

I once interviewed a homeless man (as many of you have heard) who told me “People look down on me like I’m poor because I don’t have a front door, but home is where the heart is. The world is my home.”

I once interviewed someone who had come seconds away from committing suicide, but a friend saved her. “If he wasn’t there, I don’t know where I’d be today,” she said. “I felt like no one cared, but he was the person who spared my life. He made me realize, by showing me how much life would change if I weren’t there. All that time he had spent trying to convince me to live just wasted if I killed myself. If you know a friend in need make sure you talk to them because it can make all the difference.”

I once interviewed someone who became an All-American Tennis player because the coach of the baseball team he tried out for told him he was too short to be on the team. Because of this he joined the tennis team and later lead him to a career in teaching. Eventually he also met his wife because of this. “I wish I could go back today and hold out a picture to that coach and be like ‘here, look what you did’. I have a wife and two beautiful kids all because of you,” he told me. “If that hadn’t happened then I wouldn’t be here today. Tennis has definitely changed the course of my life.”

I once interviewed an ex-NFL football player who told me about the first time he put on his football jersey: “I felt great pride, knowing that I made it to where I wanted to be in life. You feel something inside and IΚΌm sure I had a big smile on my face. My main goal in football was to put on a pro football uniform and play a pro game.”

I once interviewed someone who was so near death at age 13 that her parents had the priest come to the hospital to say last words. As she recalled this memory her eyes filled with tears, she had felt it was her fault that her parent’s were in so much pain. The worst was having them look at her and knowing there was nothing they could do. Now she continues to live everyday to the fullest and her parent’s consider her their “miracle child”. “If I got through that, I can get through anything,” she told me.

I’ve had countless people cry in front of me telling me their life story.

One who told me of her survival from cancer, not knowing if she would live to be able to hold her newborn in her arms and be able to guide him through life like a mother should. One who’s husband has been to Iraq three times and how she watches her kids grow everyday knowing that he's not there to see them. One who recalled the last car ride along the ocean with her best friend before he passed away. One who just loved his job so much, a job that has saved thousands of lives, that he was overcome by emotion as he told me about one of the lives he touched.

Someone who I looked up to that now has passed on…


If you ever interviewed me I might be able to tell you that I love to stand outside during the calm before a storm. I might be able to tell you that I love to sit in the middle of the city and watch people go about their daily tasks (creepy). I might be able to tell you that my favorite thing is to drive to nowhere while blasting music. (yes I am that car with the unnecessary blasting music you hate)

But the only important thing I would want to tell you is what I want to do with the rest of my life: hearing other’s stories. It’s my way of discovering the beautiful things in this world. Journalism has taught me more than I could have ever asked for. Beyond the lens of the video camera, beyond the words on the paper there are real people with stories of struggles, joy, failure, and triumph. The camera and the piece of paper captures these moments to share them with the rest of the world, perhaps giving others the hope they need to move on with life. I want to be that person casting these stories out into the world, giving them a glimpse into what I’ve seen.

Sometimes I ask myself "Am I living or am I just alive?"

I believe that love is the most powerful thing in the world… and my love for journalism keeps me living.

Maybe you should ask yourself what keeps you living?

One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.


Columbia Community Prepares For WBC Protests

As the protesting of the Westboro Baptist Church nears today, I took a look at how the community is preparing to respond to the protests. The community meeting was held yesterday, but the story aired this morning. The most difficult part of writing this article was not trying to be too bias towards one party and finding the right angle to not just make it the WBC versus the people they are targeting. In effect, I decided to base it on how communities respond to protests like the WBC is holding today. I tried to get a variety of voices in my piece, but couldn’t fit everyone. Read the text below, click here to listen to the story or click here to read on the KBIA web site. Keep in mind, the text below was originally written to air yesterday, but did not.


Members of various organizations in Columbia gathered Thursday at the Jewish Campus Center to learn and prepare for what they call organized hate protests being held Friday around the community. About seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church are scheduled to protest in four different places in Columbia. The Topeka, Kansas, based church is known for protesting all over the nation bearing signs and signing songs with anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-government remarks, as well as picketing at military funerals. WBC is not known to be affiliated with any other Baptist associations. Members of the organizations listened intently to suggestions and asked questions to form what they feel would be an appropriate community response. KBIA’s Tara Grimes reports.

Fighting back against organized hate crimes is nothing new to Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Karen Aroesty. She has traveled the area to talk with many communities about how to handle protests like the one being held Friday. She says her goal is to protect, investigate and educate. Aroesty says WBC is likely targeting this area because the group is looking for new opportunities, although they have been here before. During yesterday’s meeting, Aroesty explained who the WBC is and what they do. She says each community is unique and therefore should handle situations like this differently.

“I do have a very strong sense of what we would like to see the community do in response and I’ll share that,” Aroesty said. “ But ultimately in the end these sorts of things are up to the community. Because in the end, fighting hate and doing community building is going to be best for the unique environment the community is in. And I think given the campus atmosphere and also the diversity in Columbia, I think it has to be a very Columbia-oriented decision.”

She suggests the best way to handle protesters is to give them the least attention possible. She also encourages MU students to stay educated.

“You want to encourage students to independently come to a decision themselves about how they want to respond to this,” Aroesty said.

Aroesty’s message resonated with the Hillel Jewish Campus Center Executive Director Kerry Hollander, who says she doesn’t anticipate any problems. She says she believes many students learned how to handle protests when National Socialist Movement came to Columbia in March of 2007. Hollander says she understands WBC has a right to speak their minds.

“I wouldn’t want my rights curtailed, I wouldn’t want their rights curtailed,” Hollander said. “I don’t like what they’re going to say, but they have a right to say it.”

LGBTQ Community Resource Center Coordinator Ryan Black agrees.

“I’ve never seen any major ruckus the last few times when groups like this have come into town so we’ll make people be aware to a degree without raising any kind of frenzy or fear,” Black said.

WBC plans to protest in areas near Hickman High School, Mizzou Hillel, Macklanburg Playhouse and Congregation Beth Shalom.


I was supposed to go to the protests today to cover them, but my enthusiasm has slowed after coming down with sickness. I look forward to hearing how another reporter covers the story!

*Picture Courtesy of National Post: http://www.nationalpost.com

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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