Emergency workers who simulated a nuclear-waste accident in Columbia County last month learned what they did right and what they could have done better.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant exercise, held Oct. 24 on the John Deere Parkway in Grovetown, was a faux wreck between a transport hauling low-level radioactive waste from the Savannah River Site and a mobile methamphetamine lab. The faux accident was staged to test local, state and federal rescue responders in the unlikely event that this actually occurred.
Representatives of many of the participating agencies attended a meeting Oct. 31 to deliver their evaluation of the exercise.
All of them agreed that the exercise was a valuable learning experience. Also, everyone agreed that there are areas that need improvement.
The top complaint was the lack of communication between the incident command post and rescue responders. On more than one occasion, communications were garbled or misunderstood.
Other people noted that the incident command post, where the on-site rescue efforts were coordinated, needed to be clearly marked. Officials also said that Columbia County needs better equipment to handle this kind of situation. In particular, many participants felt there was a need for better communications equipment and better ways of marking certain zones, such as a contaminated hot zone or incident command.
"We have got to improve the communications," said Pam Tucker, director of Columbia County Emergency Services. She went on to suggest the formation of communication committee to seek solutions to the problem. "We're tired of talking about it. Let's fix it."
Tucker also suggested that many of the problems experienced in the exercise could be solved by agencies cross-training others and teaching the appropriate responses to a real situation.
For example, many people noted that a Columbia County Sheriff's Office deputy rushed into the middle of a hot zone to attend to an injured victim of the accident. While many applauded the nobility of that action, they said the safest and most appropriate decision would be to hold back and contact the proper authorities. Official said cross-training would have prevented such a mistake.
Each participating agency turned in an independent evaluation of the exercise, which Tucker will use top compile one report and send out to the necessary agencies.
"This was the biggest exercise ever held in Columbia County," said Tucker at the end of the meeting. "We learned enough in this exercise to help us out in any other emergency."
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