Firefighters from Noble and Wabash Fire Departments load a mannequin, which was declared deceased in the disaster drill, onto a vehicle to have him removed from the scene. Photo by Emma Rausch
By Emma Rausch
It started with a phone call.
“This is a drill and we have a chlorine leak, looks like a fatality and several people with breathing problems,” Terry Hobbs, Real Alloy employee, called into 9-1-1 Saturday morning, May 14.
Then the test began.
More than 15 public safety agencies and local organizations participated in a disaster drill on Saturday morning at the Real Alloy complex.
The drill was conducted by the Wabash County Emergency Management Agency and the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).
“What we’re doing is actually we’re testing our Local Emergency Planning Committee’s hazardous materials emergency response plan,” Bob Brown, Wabash County EMA assistant director and incident commander, said. “Every county has one and they’re required to test certain parts of that plan every year.”
Sometimes these tests are at a table with PowerPoint presentations and other times they’re full-scale, on-site drills, Brown continued.
“If we were just doing what we would call a table-top, we would have about 20 people,” he said. “There’s probably going to be about 30 to 40 people involved with this today.”
The main disaster drill theme was a simulated chlorine spill at Real Alloy, which resulted in a fatality. Several other sub-drills also occurred at the same time.
“Also here, we’re having an employee that’s doing the evacuation that’s going to fall and basically break an arm or a leg or hit their head,” Gary Huddleston, drill environment manager, told The Paper of Wabash County, “and then they’re also going to have some person play a truck driver who is here and, basically, is having heart attack type symptoms, because we’re testing what the hospital is doing.”
The drills were both a test and challenge to evaluate public safety officers on their knowledge of handling a possibly real-life disaster, according to Keith Walters, EMA executive director.
“It’s been a learning experience, so it’s been a good thing,” Walters said. “You always train. This is a training session (but) it’s also an actual event, so it’s learning (experience) and hopefully, after we put our after-action report together, we can say we can fix this or we can do this in case it really happens.”
The participating entities included Wabash Fire and Emergency Medical Service, Noble Township Volunteer Fire Department, Wabash Police Department, Wabash County Sheriff’s Department, Wabash County Local Emergency Planning Committee members, Wabash County 9-1-1 Central Dispatch Center, Wabash County RACES (Amateur Radio), the American Red Cross, Wabash County Highway Department, Wabash County Health Department, the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana, Parkview Wabash Hospital, Lutheran Air,the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and Real Alloy, LLC.
Each agency played a vital role in the drill, according to Brown.
“It’s important (that each agency is present) so we can work together and be sure that everything comes together the way it’s supposed to,” Brown said.
The exercise tested the participating agencies on operational coordination, communication systems, public information and warning, and situational assessment. Additionally, Parkview Wabash Hospital, the American Red Cross and Real Alloy conducted drills in conjunction with the LEPC’s main drill.
The hospital tested its surge capacity at the emergency room while the American Red Cross conducted a drill setting up emergency housing for the surrounding area, according to Brown. Real Alloy tested employees on plant evacuation and the guidelines for emergency plans at the scene of a hazardous materials release.
These drills are conducted because the situations are abnormal from these agencies’ daily occurrences, according to Larry Hamby, drill evaluator.
“It’s not something that happens with them every day,” Hamby said. “They’re more focused on fire, injury.”
At each location, drill evaluators assessed the responders’ actions, noting any mistakes made.
“(Real Alloy is) doing our internal part of ‘Are we checking to get our people out?’ ‘Are we checking to make sure everybody’s accounted for?’” Huddleston said. “And then, from the Emergency Management side, it’s ‘How do they approach the scene?’ ‘Do they establish the right command center?’ among other things.”
Once the drills concluded, the evaluators met with the participants to provide player feedback and discuss the series of events, what went well and what could be done better.
“It’s always important to know that your systems work,” Brown said. “You have to pre-plan. We pre-plan for all hazards and emergency management all the time.”