EMA conducts annual drill

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some of America's best storytellers are that good because the audience has been prepared to have a "willingness to suspend disbelief" about the underlying story line.

Here in Lewisburg on Thursday, the willingness to suspend disbelief was a significant part of an annual exercise that the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency must conduct.

According to the underlying story line for the drill, terrorists with nerve gas had taken control of the old Hardison School, the county's Hardison Office Annex, on College Street.

The exercise also tested the ability of medical services to transport medicine to an emergency scene so it would be most useful.

The nerve gas that was supposedly used was sarin, a clear, colorless, and tasteless liquid that has no odor in its pure form. However, sarin can evaporate into a vapor. On March 20, 1995, domestic terrorists attacked a Tokyo subway in Japan killing 13 and seriously injuring 275. Saddam Hussein killed Kurds with sarin.

In the scenario developed by Bob Hopkins, director of the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency, two terrorists released sarin gas in the Hardison Office Annex where there was a line of voters getting ready for the city election.

Some of the voters died, according to the story line developed by Hopkins.

The EMA office is just down the hall and to protect themselves, Hopkins and the others there "taped all our doors and windows and utilized the shelter-in-place method," the director said.

"The terrorists did not survive," Hopkins said.

The exercise also revealed that the caches of medicine around the country could be realistically distributed to several locations, he said. There were about a dozen counties involved in the exercise.

"It was also an attempt to check different modes of communications to see if the hospital, health department and emergency services could work together to minimize the effect of the sarin," Hopkins said.

The exercise showed that "There weren't many major obstacles" facing emergency personnel as they were put to the test.

"The time to make mistakes is during exercises so you can straighten them out before the real thing happens," Hopkins said. "All in all... everything went according to plan."

Lewisburg Police Detective Scott Braden and Detective Capt. Bob Johnson of the Sheriff's Department portrayed the terrorists. Their roles were simple.

"All we had to do is go in the building and hide," Johnson said. "They came in and found us."

They weren't supposed to resist, quite possibly because by the time they were found, they were - for the sake of the exercise -- dead.

"They did a very good job of coming in on us," Johnson said. "We were in the old EMS ambulance bay."

As for the realistic nature of the event, Allen pointed to other events in this country in recent years.

"You never know when Lewisburg could be put front and center on the news," he said.