JACKSON CENTER — A full-scale mock disaster exercise was conducted by area first responders on the property of Airstream in Jackson Center on Friday, Oct. 1. The exercise was sponsored by the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency (EMA)/Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).
“Better first responder coordination, increased communication, and support for emergency operations,” was the goal, or “expected outcome” of the exercise, according to Shelby County EMA/LEPC.
Jackson Center village officials, police and firefighters; Shelby and Miami County HAZMATs, which is comprised of members from multiple local fire departments; Sidney/Shelby County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) officials; and Shelby County Amateur Radio Emergency Services participated in the exercise in the employee parking lot of Airstream’s Touring Coach Plant Friday afternoon.
“This is pretend, but we are trying to make this better so it goes smoother in the real world,” Mark Burdiss, controller/event coordinator, of Burdiss Inc., told gathered participants at the beginning of the exercise Friday.
The purpose of the mock disaster was to provide participants with an opportunity to assess their capabilities, and the plans, policies, and procedures of an emergency during the simulated situation. According to a Shelby County LEPC press release, the exercise focused upon decision-making, coordination, and integration with other organizations during a motor vehicle crash, that resulted in a hazardous materials release.
In the fake-emergency scenario a passenger van collided with a semi-tanker hauling anhydrous ammonia, a common farm chemical. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a pungent gas with suffocating fumes that is used as a fertilizer.
On the scene, the impact of the collision caused a slow release of the chemical from a tear in the tanker. A smoke machine was set-up by the truck to release steam to simulate a gas leak. In addition to the fake chemical release, the wreck produced a mass casualty scene with several simulated victims needing to be decontaminated, assigned the degree of urgency, and treated before being moved off the scene. Jackson Center Schools donated the passenger van and Wildermuth Farms loaned out the semi-trailer used for the afternoon exercise.
“Today is a great day for training because this is where we learn,” said Tom Glass, Botkins Police chief/assistant fire chief. “We train as if it is real. We try to train as real as possible, but unfortunately we are today using (pointing to a semi-trailer instead of a tanker on the scene) because a tanker is in the field today. But training is very important to law enforcement.”
All participants were suited and geared-up for their role in the simulated emergency. First and second responders put actions into practice in real time, meaning, even though all of the participants were on location, Jackson Center Police responded initially and then called-in firefighters and HAZMAT to the scene. The exercise played-out according to the actual time it would take for help to respond. They also used a segregated channel devoted to making radio calls for additional necessary help.
”Practice, practice, practice,” Burdiss said, when telling participants to be sure to follow radio calls with the message that is only practice.
Jackson Center Police Officers Nick Honeycutt and Zach Stillings said in this simulated situation, they blocked off a 1-mile-parameter and escorted pedestrians away to prevent further harm from the chemical leak to others. They also worked to inform the public of the hazard and debunk rumors on social media about the incident.
“This is one of those rare scenarios where you have multiple organizations responding,” said Shelby County HAZMAT Chief/Sidney Firefighter Jeff Simons in between directing people what to do as they assembled the “decon zone.”
After first responders emerge from the scene containing hazardous materials, they were decontaminated, or sprayed down, to remove all chemicals from their suits.
Halfway into the day, the exercise was interrupted by at least one real-world emergency in Anna that several participants responded to. Then, at the end of the training day, those left gathered to discuss their thoughts on the operations and make any suggestions for improvement for a potential future emergency.
A simulated emergency exercise, Burdiss explained, is required by law in Ohio to be practiced every year in one of three forms, either a full-scale exercise, like was performed Friday; a functional exercise, where actors play-out scenes in a room at the EOC; or a table-talk exercise, during which players sit around a table and talk through a scenario.
Friday’s exercise had been planned since 2019 and was scheduled for the spring of 2020, but had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.