By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterSeptember 20, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The response was real, as were the serious looks on the faces of military personnel, law enforcement officers, firefighters and civilians who took part in an emergency preparedness exercise Sept. 12 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
The exercise began shortly before 9 a.m., when reports of a possible sarin gas attack brought dozens of first responders to the dining facility on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base. JBM-HH fire trucks and police vehicles quickly blocked Gorgas Road between McNair and Sheridan Roads surrounding the facility as first responders hastened to treat the soldiers who had been "exposed" to the gas.
Spc. Edgar Rodriguez of the 529th Regimental Support Company was one of the Soldiers who role-played being exposed to the gas.
"I was unable to breathe, had difficulties seeing, blurry vision," he said. "Initially, we learned about the side effects to the gas. I had the minor effect. I was just slightly exposed to the gas."
Lt. Col. Macedonio Molina, director of emergency services and provost marshal of the joint base, said a quick analysis by the first officer who arrived on the scene and called for resources right away, as well as the rapid set-up of a mass decontamination site, were some of the highlights of the exercise.
"We can improve our processes with continued training," he noted. "We did some great things in a very short amount of time and there are some things we learned, which we will use to improve our processes."
Molina noted that on-duty first responders and leadership took part in the exercise, meaning that a little less than half of the Directorate of Emergency Services staff participated in the drill, based on its 24-hour commitment. Personnel assigned to the evening shift and those who were on leave did not take part in the exercise.
"DES responded with our standard emergency response personnel and equipment," he continued. "We have the ability to detect chemical agents and radiation. We also responded with our hazardous material equipment that is used to protect ourselves and decontaminate individuals which may have been contaminated."
Molina said DES was the lead response agency for the exercise, while DES Fire Service served as the incident command and provided emergency medical services, identified the unknown material that was released, established an isolation room, initiated decontamination operations and provided updates to the installation's emergency operations center, which was also activated throughout the training.
While DES staff was aware that the exercise was going to take place, they did not know the exact scenario, explained Molina.
"The exercise started out as an emergency medical incident which evolved from one individual to several individuals with a number of symptoms," he added.
The response was graded by observers from Fort A.P. Hill and JBM-HH command staff, who included JBM-HH Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Y. Lavender. She explained that the observer's role during a graded exercise is to "evaluate certain portions on how an organization reacts to a specific scenario. As the joint base command sergeant major, it was important for me to be the joint base commander's eyes and ears, to provide accurate and quick feedback on how the emergency responders react to the situation, if the commander's intent is being effective, and if we need to speed up, slow down, or pause the scenario objectives."
Lavender said that overall the entire staff "performed well for our first chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear exercise in some time. You never stop improving in all areas and constantly ensure that we are continuing to hone in on the less utilized basic skills."
Molina said training readiness and preparation is critical to the overall success of the DES.
"We must be prepared to respond to all hazards, which include a chemical attack," he emphasized. "Our communities are dependent upon our ability to respond to, eliminate and contain any hazard to threat. This training builds the trust and confidence of our work force/first responders, the leadership and the community on our ability to keep our communities safe."