City and county first responders and local officials participated Wednesday in a mock disaster drill for a possible nerve gas leak at Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County.
Fire departments, law enforcement and governmental agencies met at the Winchester Police Department for the annual training required by the federal Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.
The exercise is performed nationwide and is the result of a partnership between the Army, local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
At Winchester Fire-EMS Station 1, the parking lot may have looked to passersby as if it had been invaded by yellow aliens.
The Maple Street station served as a decontamination point for “victims” who were exposed to the chemical agent. Firefighters wore yellow suits and masks as protective gear.
Victims, some volunteers from Winchester Christian Academy, were led through blue tents where they were sprayed off, had to change into protective suits, and had their blood pressure and oxygen levels checked.
“They’re well-trained. It’s a very safe, efficient operation here,”¿said Ben Blankenship, one of three program evaluators of the local efforts.
Blankenship, a fire chief from Arkansas who has observed CSEPP¿plans nationwide, said he and the other investigators would meet with local officials after the exercise was complete. They would then go over the community plan’s strengths and weaknesses.
He said the Winchester and Clark County community is well protected by its first responders. The local response also includes efforts from Clark Regional Medical Center, Clark County schools and local churches.
“The decontamination was done in a very timely manner,” he said. “You could tell these people were very experienced.”
Blankenship said when deciding what actions to take in the case of a chemical leak, responders have to think about what product leaked, the volume and concentration of the product, and the wind direction and speed at the time of the leak.
At leak at the chemical stockpile would potentially affect 10 Kentucky counties. Madison County, where it is located, is the Immediate Response Zone, and the southern third of Clark County is in the Protective Action Zone. A¿Protective Action Zone is an area around a hazard site broader than the Immediate Response Zone.
CSEPP¿was created after Congress directed the Army to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile in the safest way possible in 1985, according to the website.
Clark County CSEPP¿Director Gary Epperson said the local responders did well on the training. He said in the scenario given this year, the county was not at risk, but officials still had to prepare for spontaneous evacuees from at-risk areas.
“As unlikely as it is, we still have to prepare for it,” he said.
Contact Katie Perkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter, @TheSunKatie.