Mock Nerve Gas Drill Tests Emergency Readiness

A weapons of mass destruction drill is testing the readiness of emergency responders.

Hundreds of emergency workers are taking part in a three day Homeland Security exercise in Gulfport.

The disaster scenario is simple. Someone launches a nerve gas attack in the middle of a company picnic at an imaginary defense contractor. The resulting hundreds of victims threaten to quickly overwhelm local emergency responders.

"He's got burns on the upper part of his body. But he can walk," said one emergency worker as he helped a "victim" to his feet.

Workers in protective "moon suits" scrambled to assist the hundreds of victims. The area hardest hit by the mock attack resembled a battlefield.

"When you come out here and see all these people laid out with all the different injuries, the adrenaline flows. And you're having to make decisions on the fly. You're having to get your guys in the suits," said Gulfport Fire Chief, Pat Sullivan.

"Feeling better. This water ought to help you out breathing and stuff," said an EMT as he washed down a victim.

The poisonous gas requires wash downs in decontamination tents. Military and civilian teams worked side by side.

"Bringing the military to the civilian side. And we're talking to one another and we're using each other's equipment. And we're making it all happen," said Chief Sullivan.

The sheer size of the disaster drill posed some critical challenges for the emergency responders. That's why communication among the various agencies was such a vital part of this exercise.

"How many do we have available? Can we send in more than one team at a time," asked one worker, coordinating teams on his two way radio.

Emergency workers from federal, state and local agencies must stay calm amid the chaos.

Scott Thresher is the homeland security coordinator for Keesler Medical Center.

"Making sure that you can get everybody working together. Understanding that this is a drill. A drill we're here to prove that we can do this by working together," said Thresher.

Victims are airlifted to nearby hospitals. Some will later be flown to other military medical centers.

For emergency crews, the only thing missing may be the adrenaline.

"This is as close as we want to get to the real thing," said Chief Sullivan.

Emergency teams involved in the disaster drill will take part in a follow up evaluation. Observers will review the exercise, outlining what went smoothly and which areas need improvement.