Though there were no storms last night, lightning struck a munition round containing the nerve agent VX, one of several stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot, according to a mock disaster situation performed by emergency responders Wednesday.
Federal Emergency Management Agency and Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program representatives evaluated the effectiveness of workers in the state of an “emergency,” giving an overall score after the disaster was solved.
All first-responder agencies in the county including EMS, state, city and county law enforcement and local fire departments, some schools and daycares, and hospitals played along.
The emergency entrance of Baptist Health Richmond was swarmed by personnel on radios, others in Hazmat suits and some in hospital gowns, complaining of the inability to breathe and burning skin.
Civilians believed to be “exposed” to the VX agent were sent through a large blue decontamination tent.
They were each showered with soap and water, scanned to be sure no chemical agents remained on their skin, given a blue bracelet marking them as decontaminated and finally sent into the hospital for treatment.
Hospital workers from all shifts and levels of the organization played along to be sure preparedness training was evenly disbursed for all times and operations of the hospital, said Jill Williams, director of planning at the hospital.
“Just because the mock emergency happened at 11 in the morning doesn’t mean a real disaster will. We’ve got to have everybody practicing so everyone’s experienced,” Williams said.
However, first-responders weren’t the only agencies involved getting first-hand experience. Students from the Eastern Kentucky University nursing department were actors portraying the sick civilians at Baptist Health.
“It’s an opportunity for the students to get a look from the other side of things,” Williams said. “When they become nurses they have a unique experience.”
Officials gathered at an Emergency Operations Center, temporarily located at Berea City Hall, to give and take directions to others in their field. There were even faux-press calls handled by public information officers.
Renovations of the permanent EOC on South Keeneland Drive in Richmond required officials to test their backup center during the mock-disaster this year, said Kelley McBride, spokesperson for Madison County EMA and CSEPP.
Officials were a bit nervous about conducting the mock-emergency in a new environment, however “evaluators and locals were very pleased with how well it went,” McBride said.
Although call-takers were less numerous than usual — only four volunteers of the usual nine — in a “hot wash” meeting shortly after the disaster ended, evaluators commended the four for their job-well-done, McBride said.
A completed evaluation won’t be given for a few months because of its volume, McBride said, but things seemed to go well.
McBride attributed to the day's success to the seriousness of volunteers who make the day possible. “It’s their dedication to community preparedness and the love of their community,” McBride said, “or they wouldn’t be here.”
Machaela can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6623.