By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
HERMISTON At 17:06 p.m. (that's 5:06 for non-military folks), a muffled voice came over a loudspeaker in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Umatilla Chemical Depot an explosion had occurred at an igloo involving M55 rockets containing GB sarin chemical agent.
The annual CSEPP (Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program) exercise had begun.
As depot employees and military personnel swarmed into the EOC to man their posts to oversee the mock disaster, nearly 150 evaluators from across the country watched to see how Umatilla handles a chemical emergency.
As information continued to filter in, voices muffled by the masks workers are required to wear during a chemical emergency, calls were made to the outpost community, alerting both Morrow and Umatilla counties, Benton County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation as to what the recommended course of action for citizens to take shelter-in-place or evacuate. While those decisions are being made, Marty Yakawich, senior advisor to Lt. Col. Donna Rutten, commander of the Depot, spoke over a microphone, informing the EOC personnel as to what had occurred.
Meanwhile, at the EOC in Hermiston's Bob Shannon Safety Center, First Responders were monitoring the situation from their posts. By 6:45 p.m., emergency crews had arrived at the Hermiston Conference Center where the Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District and Hermiston Fire District emergency workers got busy inflating the decontamination tents used to decontaminate non-ambulatory victims. A perimeter was quickly set up and caution tape was used to show any casualties where they should go; to the decontamination trucks or to the tents.
Once the tents were set up, workers donned their protective suits. Umatilla High School students, portraying accident victims, waited for their cue to play their parts.
And how did everyone feel about the exercise?
According to Jim Hackett, public affairs for the Depot, the exercise went as expected.
"Everything went well," Hackett said, "from the Depot perspective. And from the off post as well."
No major glitches occurred, Hackett said. A preliminary briefing will be held on Monday at the Umatilla County Jail in Pendleton at 9 a.m. for stakeholders. The complete evaluation takes between 45 - 60 days to complete.
Off post went "very well," according to Scott Cahill, Hermiston Site Manager for First Responders.
"Set-up was within the time limit," he added.
The decontamination crews assisted one non-ambulatory victim who (mock) exhibited symptoms of GB sarin chemical agent exposure and one walk-through patient with the same symptoms. Those patients were transported to Good Shepherd Hospital.