Twelve Douglas County emergency response agencies participated in a full-scale disaster exercise Tuesday morning to test the county’s Local Emergency Operations Plan.
Response teams were evaluated on their ability to coordinate with multiple agencies and manage resources during a major emergency.
“The purpose of any drill,” said Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Mark Bradford, “is to exercise our policies and procedures that we have in place, ensure that we have adequate equipment for what we’re doing in different types of evolutions and then mesh those together with employee training and experience.”
Among the 12 local agencies were Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, Kansas All-Hazards Behavioral Health Team and Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
The exercise began with a 911 call from a pretend passer-by at the Youth Sports Complex near Clinton Lake. Fire Medical crews were dispatched to a maintenance facility, which was engulfed in smoke, but they quickly realized they were not dealing with a fire.
“This exercise is based on a hazardous materials scenario,” said Bob Newton, public information officer for Douglas County Emergency Management. “What we have is a theoretical accident in a maintenance facility. Chemicals used in maintenance operations, pesticides and those kind of things are spilled and combine to produce a hazardous gas.”
Volunteer victims simulated physical reactions to the gas and were treated by hazmat crews wearing gas masks and full protective gear. Bradford said such training was essential for emergency crews who do not deal with this type of emergency on a daily basis.
“In hazmat incidents — one, we train people to be very, very slow because we don’t know exactly what the material is,” Bradford said, “but also we want them to be quick in certain instances because it’s a life threat.”
While emergency crews treated victims at the sports complex, doctors and nurses at Lawrence Memorial Hospital were flooded with a busload of volunteer mock victims. Decontamination showers and a triage area were set up outside the hospital as part of their mass casualty plan.
“Anytime you have a disaster it’s going to be extremely important that we all work together,” said Tom Damewood. As LMH’s emergency preparedness coordinator, Damewood evaluated staff on their ability to simultaneously treat victims and coordinate with crews in the field.
The media also took part in the exercise. Emergency management communications staff took questions from mock reporters. Their training focused on controlling the flow of information to the public during a major disaster.
Emergency management officials at the sports complex and hospital said they were pleased with the results of the training session.
“The whole idea is to learn from this,” Newton said, “and to see if there are improvements that can be made in emergency procedures and emergency plans.”