U-WIRE-03/31/2006-U. Arkansas: U. Arkansas hosts emergency response exercise (C) 2006 Arkansas Traveler Via U-WIRE
By Pamela Acosta, Arkansas Traveler (U. Arkansas)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Emergency-response agencies from Washington and Benton counties practiced responding to large-scale emergencies Wednesday at University of Arkansas' Bud Walton Arena. The Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness Exercise allowed emergency-response agencies to be prepared for threats of weapons of mass destruction and other emergencies.
"There's so many things that could go wrong during emergencies, the best thing we can do is prepare with stimulations," said John Luther, the Exercise Director and representative for the Washington County Department of Emergency Management.
The simulation started at 10:04 a.m. with an improvised explosive device simulating a chemical threat.
The simulation-serum gas was dispersed inside Bud Walton Arena, where observers, media, evaluators, and actors waited.
Victims, played by drama and EMT students and other volunteers, were asked to evacuate the building as alarms beeped in the background.
Outside, the victims were helped by emergency responders and agencies from both counties.
Victims wore tags to inform the responders what was wrong with them. In the simulation, the gas caused some injuries, and several participants were supposed to be injured when exiting the building and getting trampled on the way out.
"The best thing about the exercise was that the first responders didn't know what the situations were until they occurred," said Laurie Roy, an EMT B student from NWAAC. "Hopefully the responders get some good experience out of it."
The second exercise was a bomb threat. After firefighters were called for the chemical threat, a victim, Carrie Hamilton, came out of the arena carrying a duffel bag she found, simulating a ticking bomb. Several firefighters were "killed" by the second explosion. After a while, the bomb squad came to the scene sporting two robots.
Decontamination was also a part of the simulation exercise.
"We have the advantage of knowing what is going on," saidJim Dixon, the public information representative for Emergency Management and Homeland Security for Benton County.
"In the real thing, we won't know what to expect. Terrorists' attacks are an on-going series of events."
Luther said, "We want the responders to see what it's like and to see how to fix things, practice and learn."
"Evaluators will emphasize on the good as much as on what needs to be improved," Dixon said.
Luther said one of the weaknesses was time but it was something that was hard to overcome.
"Time is always our enemy," he said.
The specialized rescue teams, like the SWAT or Bomb squad are slower to arrive because it is not the first response, he said.
"How do we fix that problem? By having more specialized equipment available to local agencies," he said.
Another simulation was done two years ago in the Benton County area, but Luther said this was the first full scale exercise with two counties and 20 agencies total participating.
He said they were also planning with the Fort Smith bomb division in order to work together in the future.
The last simulation, sponsored by Wal-Mart, was created by the local agencies.
Luther said this simulation was different because the federal government required them to follow certain guidelines.