County Comment: What's In A Drill?

PH CAP: County Emergency Personnel move a "victim" at the recent HAZMAT drill in Williamsport.

County Comment
What's In A Drill?
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

If you were walking along the C&O Canal Towpath or fishing in the Potomac near Williamsport on Saturday, September 22nd, you might have noticed some activity in the vicinity of the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant.
What was it, and why did it happen?
Washington County's Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and the City of Hagerstown conducted an emergency exercise designed to train Fire and Emergency Services first responders and a host of participating agencies in implementing emergency action plans.
The scenario involved a mock chlorine gas leak at the plant. 35 first responders from local fire and emergency medical service companies and 30 allied agencies participated.
The Local Emergency Preparedness Committee is a coalition of government, the chemical industry and private agencies that have voluntarily prepared and tested working plans for emergencies involving hazardous chemicals. LEPC's are federally funded and are integral part of local governments nationwide.
Locally, drills are held on an annual basis at locations around the County. Through such drills, responders learn how to put the pieces of emergency plans in place and how agencies work together for safety of the public.
Objectives of the recent drill for the LEPC included evaluation of staff's ability to follow emergency notifications as they pertain to the updated County Emergency Operations Plan and the County's Hazardous Materials Plan. The Unified Command aspect of the Incident Management System was tested, and Special Operations Department's policies and procedures were evaluated in terms of response to the incident.
The Willson Plant evaluated and tested its Integrated Process Safety and Risk Management Plan as well as response to a hazardous materials incident as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Washington County Hospital used the drill to test its Code Orange (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Plan, and evaluated the Hospital's Decontamination Team response to such an incident.
The Washington County Health Department benefited by testing the ability to reach needed staff using a call-down tree, building partnerships and raising awareness of the Department's role in the Incident Command System.
Williamsport's Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services companies, located closest to the scene and therefore the first of the first responders to reach the plant were evaluated as to first initial actions, implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and how the incident commander performed in mitigation of the incident.
The drill began at 9am and was concluded by 11am. Responders were presented with a mock scenario that involved the chlorine leak, injuries to plant workers and visitors, and injuries to people using the C&O Canal towpath for recreation.
In addition to the LEPC and Hagerstown Utilities Department personnel, participating agencies included the Public Information Offices of the County and City, the Washington County Division of Fire and Emergency Services, the City of Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Department, the Maryland State Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services companies from Williamsport, Halfway, and Clear Spring as well as the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. Washington County's Health Department and Washington County Health Services (Hospital), the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross, the County's Transportation Department (County Commuter), and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) all had roles in the exercise.
State and federal agencies involved included the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services (MIEMS), the Department of Natural Resources Police, and the C&O Canal District office of the National Park Service.
Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Verna Brown said, "The exercise was a very good opportunity for building partnerships between agencies and responders. It allowed them to work together toward the common goal of safety for all of our citizens."