Massive Disaster Drill in the Low Country - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/11/05

Massive Disaster Drill in the Low Country

Ever since the September 11 attack on America, emergency crews around the nation have tried to prepare for the worst. Hundreds of police, firefighters and emergency workers did just that today with a massive drill simulating a terrorist attack in the Low Country.

The Department of Homeland Security set up the simulation with a fake chemical leak at one location followed up by a fake hostage situation down the road.

The smoke was fake, the screams were fake, but the response efforts were real. Thursday started with a simulated school attack with a hydrogen cyanide leak. Crews from close to a dozen different agencies were responding.

"We'll know by the end of the day whether they truly work," said Mike Hodges, emergency services director for Jasper County.

One of the main purposes of this exercise is to see if different groups that normally don't have to work together can coordinate effectively.

"You not only test your own abilities, you test the abilities of your neighboring areas," explained Hodges. "You know what they will bring to the table."

Crews had to show restraint at the beginning of the day, since the local fire department isn't equipped to handle a spill like the one they simulated. Once that was relatively under control, police trained on a hostage situation with the same storyline of terrorists using hydrogen cyanide.

"The things we take away is a chance to see it, a lot of the assets we've put in place," said William Winn, emergency management director for Beaufort County. "Do they really work as we anticipate they will? Or do we have to change our operational procedure?"

Organizers of the massive simulation say there are several reasons the Low Country's a good place for a drill like this.

"The amount of growth that's going on in our county as well as the proximity to military bases and such things," said Hodges. "We're kind of stuck right in the middle."

In all, close to 300 people were involved in today's drill. Organizers say it's easily the largest one of its kind ever in the Low Country.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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