During this week's FEMA training in Fulton, local officials had to ask "What if?"
What if terrorists targeted Callaway County? What if evacuation efforts led to car crashes? What if shooters showed up at multiple locations like an elementary school or a college?
Faced with a fictional worst-case scenario, the approximately 50 attendees had to pool their resources and up their communication game.
"I've learned quite a bit," Fulton Fire Chief Kevin Coffelt said. "As a city and a county, we have to really train to deal with a large-scale incident. We're very fortunate to have this class."
Each year, FEMA offers four-day intensive training courses in only 12 locations in the nation. Callaway County Emergency Operations Center director Michelle Kidwell successfully applied to bring the program to Fulton.
Participants included members of the Fulton and Holts Summit police departments, the Fulton Fire Department, EMS, William Woods University and Westminster College, local governments, Callaway County Sheriff's Office, the American Red Cross, and more.
Together, they spent nine hours working through the disaster scenario and attended lectures by a half-dozen experts from across the country. One speaker was on the first response during 9/11 and another helped coordinate the response to the unrest in Ferguson. Topics included everything from how to seek state and federal resources to how to handle post-disaster visits from celebrities.
Perhaps a multi-target attack by terrorists is improbable in Callaway County. But it's worth training for anyway, FEMA course manager Carl Wertman said.
"All you have to do is point out any number of communities, even rural ones, who've said the same thing, ('It can never happen here'),'" Wertman said.
He pointed out the lessons about communication, a coordinated response and careful resource management learned during the course can apply to any number of scenarios. For example, while a terrorist attack might not be likely, a storm resulting in multiple tornadoes throughout the county is entirely possible.
"The scenario is designed to stretch community resources so they have to make hard decisions," he said.
By the end of the scenario, the bad guys had been stopped, and attendees had learned quite a bit.
"This has been a way for us to solidify our relationships with the first responders," said Venita Mitchell, dean of student life at William Woods University. "We actually have our own emergency operation center on campus. Parents and families want to know our kids are safe on campus, especially in this day and age."
Patrick Smith attended on behalf of the American Red Cross and said he was able to educate fellow attendees on ARC's resources.
"A lot of groups didn't realize what the Red Cross can provide," he said. "Working through a disaster, we can get in early and do a lot of things. We already have in place this network of backups, and the fact that all of that's coordinated and planned already should be a great relief for the public to know."
Lowe Cannell, Fulton's newly elected mayor, also said the training gave him a sense of relief.
"I do think about these scenarios, especially school shootings — those are something I'd hate to see here," he said. "Being new at this role it weighs on me a little bit."
The training gave local officials plenty to work on in the near future, Kidwell added.
"There was a lot of working and collaboration," she said. "This has given us a lot to chew on. I was thinking, if this was a real incident, holy cow. We'll be doing more training and exercises."