By Ronica Shannon
Today will be “a crazy day in the community,” according to Carl Richards, director of Madison County Emergency Management Agency.
“There’s going to be an accident at the depot that will cause (nerve) agent to be released,” Richards said. “Will there be a fire or an explosion? We don’t know.”
The county’s annual emergency response exercise will be conducted today and will call for the collaboration of several local agencies including the county’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), the Blue Grass Chemical Activity Emergency Operations Center, Madison County Emergency Management Agency as well as the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort.
All agencies will be notified within the first five minutes of the simulated disaster.
The sirens will be followed by instructions to tune in to the local radio stations for further instructions.
Local fire and police forces will simulate emergency first response actions, providing traffic guidance and decontamination facilities.
Other participating entities will include the Berea, Richmond and Madison County fire departments, Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center and St. Joe Berea Hospital.
Local government officials participating include Madison Judge-Executive Kent Clark and Deputy Judge-Executive Linda Ginter, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly and a representative from the Richmond City Commission.
Several Madison County schools, including Clark-Moores and Foley middle schools and Waco, Kingston, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Mayfield, White Hall, Shannon Johnson, Silver Creek and Kirksville elementary schools, will be participating in the event.
ABC Daycare and Richmond Health and Rehabilitation also will be a part of Wednesday’s exercise.
Eastern Kentucky University nursing students and several professors will be acting as patients who display symptoms of nerve agent contamination.
“They make very good patients because they really understand the symptoms,” Richards said.
Many of the “patients” will be treated at the county’s hospitals, but will be taken through the decontamination process before being sent for mock treatment.
“This year, we will have chemical detection capabilities at decontamination sites,” Richards said.
The mock disaster drill takes months of preparation, but it always is a learning experience, he said.
“We see things as a way to get better and improve,” Richards said. “We’re better this year when compared with last year. We will not do everything prefect, but we will take it for what it’s worth and learn from it.”
Approximately 100 evaluators from the Department of Homeland Security, the Army and other CSEPP communities across the country will observe. A comprehensive report of all exercise actions and lessons learned will be prepared and provided to participants so any problems can be identified and corrected.
“This always teaches you something you can do better,” he said. “It not only tests your people, but it also tests your equipment. You should always find something to improve on. You’re not going to be perfect.”
Lt. Col. Tom Closs, commander of the Blue Grass Chemical Activity at the depot, coordinates quarterly drills for the employees who work directly with the weapons in storage.
“We did an exercise last month, so we feel pretty prepared for this,” Closs said. “This is a very big event for us. If you’re not finding out anything new, then you’re probably not exercising as seriously as you should be.”
Richards reminds Madison County residents that they can use this exercise to check on emergency preparedness in their own home. It is vital that residents know which emergency response zone they reside in, Richards said. Residents can find their zone classification by calling the Madison County Emergency Management Agency at 624-4787.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 234.