By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski
HERMISTON One hundred inspectors, controllers and evaluators rolled into town to test how well the Umatilla Chemical Depot, First Responders and other agencies responded during a mock chemical emergency at the depot Wednesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) brought representatives from regions that house depots where chemical stockpiles reside. Six out of the 10 regions were represented, according to Don Jacks, FEMA spokesperson. Inspectors from the Army and contractors were also present.
For the first time in three years, schools in Hermiston and Irrigon participated in the exercise. Previous exercises had been done at night.
At Hermiston High School, things did not go off without a hitch. The tone alert radio in the office did not go off, nor did Vice Principal Brad Speery's pager. Although the school knew that an exercise was going to take place, the failure meant that the school officials at Hermiston High weren't aware of when the emergency occurred.
According to Jesse Seigal, FEMA spokesperson for Region 10, the tone alert radios have worked every Wednesday for the weekly tone alert radio tests. He felt that it was a problem that could be corrected easily.
"It could be the antenna on the radio needs to be longer," Seigal said. "It is obvious we had a failure here, but it's a problem with an easy fix."
Students also had trouble getting into the gym. Doors to the gym were locked and the students had to wait for teachers to open the doors. Once the students were inside the room, the over-pressurization was switched on. This all happened within two to three minutes before the ?accident' actually happened at the depot.
In the exercise scenario, at 10:26 Wednesday morning, two M55 rockets exploded at the depot. By 10:30, sirens had gone off in the cities surrounding the Umatilla Chemical Depot. First Responders were out by 10:34.
Jacks said that GB Sarin agent is used during an exercise because it moves more easily into the air. VX and mustard gas tends to stay on the ground, unless there is an explosion that takes the agents into the atmosphere. There was no actual risk of contamination from the mock explosion.
"The real risk," Jacks said, "is the continued storage, not the incineration."
There are 220,604 munitions and containers filled with 7.4 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas. The chemicals are set for incineration beginning this summer.
A meeting will be held on Friday, May 7 at 9 a.m. to discuss preliminary results of the exercise at the Umatilla County Justice Building in Pendleton. The public is invited to attend.