Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perspective on 2007 mass casualty drill

Nearly two years ago, Earle conducted what the Sept. 7, 2007 Asbury Park Press dubbed a "mass casualty drill," simulating an aftermath scenario of a chemical weapons attack involving a truck carrying chlorine gas and its intended target, an ordnance-filled military train. Clearly, we should all cross our fingers that such an indict never comes to fruition in Monmouth County, and on the other hand rest easier that the Navy prepares for even a worst-case scenario.

As a civilian, there is something extremely startling, however, about the accompanying photo of first responders dressed in glaring orange HazMat suits, carrying a victim from the scene of the drill (at the corner of West Front Street in Middletown and Normandy Road). One can only imagine the devastation of such an attack, and from such drills we can only suspect that such a preparedness drill means that Navy leaders have at least contemplated that such an attack is a potential reality in the wake of 9/11.

The thought, however, of base forces being unnecessarily distracted by an added responsibility of policing a small town of civilian residents on its base as soon as September 2010 gives NOPE extreme pause in whether Earle can be truly prepared to a) protect its neighbors from such an attack along a 14-mile government road and rail line, and b) respond adequately in the event of such a horrific disaster. Again, much of NAVFAC's study into the Laurelwood plan is filled with rhetoric about how security and Earle's mission (which is solely to provide ammunition to the fleet) will not be compromised by a presumed 1,000-plus civilian residents and unimpeded access to this strategic weapons installation. If, unlike many of us, you're willing to buy that bill of goods, then more power to you, and cross your fingers that none of the civilian tenants or civilian visitors to Earle's Mainside complex in Colts Neck between 2010 and 2040 has ill will toward the Navy or democracy in general. In the meantime, here is the APP story from Sept. 2007.
Source: Asbury Park Press
Preparedness & coordination
Law-enforcement and emergency groups attend Earle mass-casualty drill
The simulated scenario at Naval Weapons Station Earle was the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack involving a truck carrying chlorine gas and its intended target, an ordnance-filled military train.
So, early Thursday morning members of the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management, county Prosecutor's Office, county hazardous-materials unit, State Police and state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness gathered at the corner of West Front Street and Normandy Road, the 15-mile military thoroughfare.
All were on site for Earle's mass casualty drill, an all-day exercise to assess the military base's preparedness level and its ability to successfully coordinate with the local and state emergency authorities, base spokesman Patrick Fisher said.
"This will be unfolding without a lot of people knowing (the details)," Fisher said before the drill. "Only about 15 to 20 people know the scenario."
The other base responders would have to rely on training to assess the situation quickly and effectively execute commands.
The 64-year-old naval base, which sits on more than 11,000 acres, uses Normandy Road, a restricted roadway, and adjacent railroad line to transport munitions to naval fleets at its 2.2-mile long pier in the Leonardo section of Middletown.
"Our first responders include base security, fire and rescue personnel who arrive first at the scene to assess the situation and set a safety perimeter around the area," Fisher said.
Those first responders, two Earle firemen dressed in glaring orange HazMat suits equipped with oxygen masks, found five unconscious "victims": a train crew of four men, two of whom were thrown from the train, and the truck driver.
Immediately, the assessment of the victims revealed two "deaths" — the truck driver and train conductor — one suffering from burns, another from a respiratory ailment and the last from a fractured hip, said drill coordinator Lt. Jeffrey Dennison. So-called hot zones were outlined, and a simulated barricade was set up at the intersection.
Next on site were naval medical officers who began setting up a makeshift triage area away from onlookers who, in turn, were soon evacuated 4,000 feet away from the site.
"This was a challenge to everyone, and we thought everyone received great training," Fisher said once the drill was completed. "We've identified areas that needed improving and will include them in future training."
Fisher said follow-up lessons based on what was learned through exercise will be conducted.
"Overall, it was very successful," Fisher said.

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