GEARY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) --A grant from the Kansas Department of Emergency Management allowed 19 counties in northeast Kansas to conduct a regional exercise Tuesday. Agencies were able to practice their response in the event of a disaster involving a hazardous material.
The scenario for the multi-county drill revolved around a political rally that was held at the Statehouse in Topeka. During the rally, the crowd was accidentally sprayed by a crop duster plane that was experiencing a malfunction. Those in attendance came into contact with the chemicals and the next day, they started exhibiting flu-like symptoms from the pesticides. Some 4,000 people were in the crowd and started showing up sick throughout the region.
The level of participation by individual agencies in the various counties varied from tabletop exercise practice of emergency plans and procedures to full-scale response with personnel and equipment at a simulated disaster site.
In Douglas County there was a field response by law enforcement, fire and medical units to a hazardous materials incident, and subsequent opening of the Emergency Operations Center and a Joint Information Center, as well as exercising the Hospital Incident Command System and practicing patient decontamination at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
"This is to simulate a dispersed exposure from one event, where you have a lot of people going back to their residences and everything happening at the same time," Mark Bradford, Chief of the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire-Medical department said. "Everybody would get sick at about the same time."
"We drill on this three or four times a year, to get it right, and every time, we learn something and we can do it a little bit better," Joan Harvey, Emergency Department Director at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said.
"This is what [we are] trying to demonstrate, not only what we'd have in the field, but the hospitals would be inundated with people just walking in," he said.
The Douglas County All-Hazards Behavioral Health Team was also activated.
In Geary County, a sick man pulled off of Interstate 70 and into the parking lot of Barton Community College in Grandview Plaza and called 911 as part of the simulated exercise. The patient was treated and decontaminated at the scene by emergency crews and firefighters and then taken to Geary Community Hospital where other decontamination stations were set up and other sick patients had arrived. The hospital staff was waiting to treat them.
"We have never participated with the fire department and the hospital doing the decontamination together so we wanted to get that part taken care of because you never know with the stuff that’s coming down the interstate or along the rails as to what we could have happen. We have manufacturing plants here that have chemicals and we could have a problem and you never know if you’re going to have one victim or multiple victims like we showed today," said Garry Berges, the Emergency Management director for Geary County who helped coordinate the exercise.
"Anytime we have these drills, we use them as a training tool. We’ll take this back and we’ll look at what we did right and what we did wrong and we’ll build on that for the next time. And also when we have to do it for real, these exercises help us prepare for those situations," added Battalion Chief Richard Rook with the Junction City Fire Department.
Members of the Junction City Fire Department, Grandview Plaza Fire Department, Geary County Rural Fire Department, the Geary County Sheriff’s Department, and Geary County Emergency Management participated in the drill.
Functional exercises also took place in Franklin County at Ransom Memorial Hospital in Ottawa and in Jefferson County at F.W. Huston Medical Center in Winchester. Tabletop exercises took place in 15 other northeast Kansas counties.
Called “Operation Luminous Sunflower,” officials said the six-hour exercise provided response agencies the opportunity to identify the response and coordination issues before an incident, allowing them to better respond in an actual event.
"You just never know when you’re dealing with a biological agent- you don’t know what it is, how it’s transmitted from person to person. It could be through skin contact or air contact. This is something that we need to know and when you approach something like this, you have to treat it with the utmost respect so that you yourself don’t get sick and so that it doesn’t spread to other people. This is just another step that we can take in the education process," Geary County Undersheriff Tony Wolf said during the regional drill.