Disaster Drill Examines Public Emergency Capabilities

By  //  April 24, 2012

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Planning & preparing

BREVARD COUNTY • PALM BAY, FLORIDA – With last year’s nuclear accident in Japan fresh in everyone’s minds, a rest area on I-95 just south of Palm Bay was the site of a multi-agency emergency response and public safety drill Tuesday morning.

Brevard County Fire Rescue personnel man a decontamination tent at Tuesday's simulated nuclear disaster drill south of Palm Bay. (Images by Ed Pierce)

The drill simulated a mass contamination and public exposure at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant on Hutchinson Island near Port St. Lucie.

Participating agencies were able to review emergency procedures and gauge their state of readiness in the event of an actual accident.

With Brevard County located within a 50-mile radius from the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, plans are in place to act as hosts and shelter evacuees from areas surrounding the plant.

Tuesday’s drill is part of Brevard’s role in the Emergency Preparedness Planning Process and the county is required periodically to demonstrate the ability to perform certain functions, according Don Walker, Brevard County public information officer.

“If there was a radiological event at the plant, evacuees would come here where we would do radiological detection and render any type of help we can,” Walker said.

Demonstration For FEMA

This exercise was set up to demonstrate to FEMA, federal agency that provides oversight to the  Nuclear Power Plant Contingency Planning process that Brevard’s response capabilities involving traffic control, emergency worker monitoring and decontamination and emergency vehicle and equipment monitoring and decontamination are sound and practical.

Kimberly Prosser

Kimberly Prosser, Brevard County Emergency Management Director, said coordination of resources was at the heart of the drill.

“It’s very important that all these agencies work together,” Prosser said. “More than a dozen agencies are involved out here today. We plan, train and exercise to handle scenarios exactly like what we are testing for today.”

Taking It Seriously

On scene were hazardous materials teams in protective gear, a decontamination tent, portal monitors, handheld radiological detection equipment, American Red cross volunteers to help evacuate simulated contaminated victims, law enforcement officers, fire and rescue personnel, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force representatives, responder equipment, vehicles and trailers and the bomb squad robot.

Brevard County emergency managers review plans and procedures at Tuesday's simulated nuclear disaster drill south of Palm Bay.

Participating agencies included: Brevard County Office of Emergency Management; Brevard County Fire Rescue; Brevard County Sheriff’s Office; Florida Highway Patrol; Florida Department of Transportation; Brevard County Health Department; the American Red Cross; Space Coast Area Transit; Federal Emergency Management Agency; Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Radiation Control; Florida Division of Emergency Management and regional partners from St. Lucie County, Indian River County, Martin County and Palm Beach County.

Lt. Jeffrey Taylor

Lt. Jeff Taylor, Brevard County Fire Rescue public information officer, said major drills like this are conducted every four years.

“This is an all-hazard event for us,” Taylor said.

“It covers the areas of chemical or biological release and a disaster.”

Brevard Fire Rescue sent a staff of 11 to the drill, including a nine-man special operations team and various items of equipment such as barrels for collecting hazardous waste, a Haz Mat truck, a rescue unit and a ladder truck.

“This is a run of the mill event for us but part of a larger decontamination test for us and how we respond as part of a larger regional system,” Taylor said.

Jane Bowden

Jane Bowden of the American Red Cross Space Coast Chapter was part of a Red Cross group who took part in the exercise.

“We brought a total of 18 volunteers,” Bowden said. “Eight of them are playing evacuees who we will be taking to the shelter at Our Lady of Grace Church in Palm Bay.

Bowden said Our Lady of Grace is one of 13 primary shelters the Red Cross has established in Brevard County.

“We tend to do exercises like this more often,” Bowden said.

“We do many of our own especially with hurricane season coming up. We have several Haz Mat courses to attend and we have people who are prepared in the event of any type of emergency.”

Valuable Lessons Learned

Don Walker

Worked in protective clothing examine a volunteer for radiation contamination at Tuesday's simulated nuclear disaster drill south of Palm Bay.

Walker said lessons learned at Tuesday’s exercise will be beneficial in the future.

“I think the value of an exercise like this helps evaluate any gaps between agencies in emergency situations such as hurricanes, disasters and similar events,” Walker said.

“Today is the day to correct any problems that arise and drills like this help us address any weaknesses we may find.”

He said the main purpose of the exercise was to show FEMA that Brevard has a plan in place for traffic control on I-95, and to be able to provide vehicle decontamination and test emergency responder decontamination, along with the American Red Cross evacuation drill.

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