Harrison County regional response team tests emergency skills

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Evacuations and de-contamination. Those were among the issues facing dozens of emergency responders in Harrison County on Monday.

But it was only a drill.

Monday marked the first mass casualty exercise for the county's new regional response team.

Here's the scenario: A delivery truck carrying hazardous, radioactive materials, explodes on I-10. More than two dozen are dead and dozens more injured as these emergency responders deploy.

"There are some businesses and hotels to the east," said incident commander Russell Weatherly.

First responders quickly make plans to assist Jackson County.

"We need to set-up a staging area. Have those people who are responding, respond to a safe area," said one of the participants.

Under the scenario, Jackson County's emergency manager and fire coordinator are among the victims.

"It is not our intention to put anybody else in the hot zone," said Harrison County Fire Coordinator Pat Sullivan.

A quarter mile evacuation zone has already been established. Among those too close for comfort is an elementary school.

"So, we have a school inside that quarter mile that we need to look at," said DMR officer Patrick Levine, one of the incident commanders.

"We're real good on responding to weather issues. But this one has that little twist of hazardous materials, major hazardous materials. Transportation issues. And it could be one of those that's an ever-growing incident," said Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy.

"A number of responders have been contaminated.  Approximately 40 responders have been contaminated," said Weatherly.

"If they come to you, you can decontaminate them there," said the information officer.

The ever changing scenario challenges these responders with plenty of curve balls. Emergency plans must be fluid and flexible.

"Well, that's emergency management in general. You never know what's going to be thrown at you next, so you have to be prepared for everything," said Butch Loper, the Assistant Road Manager for Jackson County and a man who's been involved in emergency management for years.

"It's also a good way to exercise what you've learned in the books. Because you go to these classes individually, and you learn a section of this and a section of that. But to apply it in a real situation kind of lets you mold through all the different divisions of it. And it really helps in your coordination of the efforts," said Loper.

The first responders will critique their drill, deciding what they did well and marking which areas could stand some improvement.

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