September 26, 2007 Edition

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LawCo. Office of Emergency
Management participates in drill

Alan Haskins (right), fire chief for the Walnut Ridge Fire Department, and Frank Owens assess the situation at an emergency drill held last week at the Paragould Airport. The drill was a collaborative effort between the Office of Emergency Services for Lawrence, Randolph and Greene counties.
Amber Adams
Staff Writer

Members of the Lawrence County Office of Emergency Management participated in an emergency drill held at the Paragould Airport last week. Teams from Randolph and Greene counties were also part of the exercise.

The scenario was as follows:

A call went out shortly after 10 a.m. saying that there was a small plane preparing to land at the Paragould Airport. Once the Paragould Police Department was notified, contact was established with suspected terrorists on the plane. The terrorists indicated that there was a 150-pound chlorine bomb on the plane, which would be detonated at 11 a.m.

Lawrence and Randolph county Haz-Mat teams and additional ambulances were dispatched. Communication was established again and passengers informed the emergency officials that the terrorists had been subdued, and the bomb had not detonated. There was a chlorine leak, however, and several passengers and crewmembers were getting sick.

A plan was formulated for entry into the plane and walking wounded were offloaded first.

The Emergency Management personnel who organized the drill used a school bus in place of a small passenger-plane. Cadets from Black River Technical College's Fire Training Center participated in the event as victims and terrorists.

As emergency response teams arrived on the scene, they were checked into incident command, entered into a computer database and tagged according to which part of emergency services they belonged. The situation was assessed and Haz-Mat units were activated. A decontamination area was set-up and teams were checked and dressed in suits.

Officials hope that this exercise and similar ones will improve the coordination between various response organizations, elected officials and community support organizations and use of local mutual aid agreements to facilitate multi-agency coordination.

AWIN Radios allow better communication

The drill was also used to exercise the communities' ability to activate staff and operate local Emergency Operations Centers and to assess the ability of the three counties to establish and maintain multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional communications during a terrorist incident. The use of a new radio system made this much easier.

Lawrence, Randolph and Greene counties are all using Arkansas Wireless Information Network, or AWIN. The radios operating on AWIN used by Lawrence County officials and response teams were purchased through a series of grants procured over the last two years.

According to Joe Chappell, medical officer for Lawrence County Haz-Mat, all counties have access to the system, with each operating on its own channel. When an event occurs that requires a multi-agency response, teams can communicate with each other using MAC, Mutual Aid Channel.

"9-11 demonstrated to the federal government the need for a system like this," said Chappell, "and Katrina reinforced it. AWIN is Arkansas's answer to the problems experienced in these two situations."

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