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Agent says bioterrorism drill won't disrupt residents

October 21, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Officials predicted Monday that the impact on residents should be minimal from a bioterrorism drill that is expected to continue today and end Wednesday at the Long Meadow Shopping Center.

"It will not disrupt anything," said Bob Kelly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agent who is coordinating the drill.

About 150 people will have participated in the drill by its conclusion, following written scripts handed to them to simulate changing events in a perceived act of biological terrorism. More than a dozen city and county firetrucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles will be situated at the shopping center, Kelly said.

But because of the nature of the drill, Washington County Hospital and neighborhoods near the shopping center also will see some of the action.

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Officials offered assurances Monday that regular emergency response would not be affected by the large role-playing effort.

Although newer emergency vehicles will be used in the drill - officials said that is because newer equipment would be sent to a real bioterrorism situation - extra emergency workers are being called in to make up the difference.

Additionally, if a real emergency arises, the drill would take a back seat and participants would assume their usual roles.

The city was preparing to direct traffic near the shopping center, where the bulk of the activities will take place, said Hagerstown Deputy Fire Chief Ron Horn. But he didn't expect major traffic delays. While electric road signs alert drivers to the drill, no roads are going to be closed.

Off the main site of the exercise, residents may see parts of the drill, but no one should be adversely affected, officials said.

Six to 10 drill participants suffering from make-believe symptoms will be taken to Washington County Hospital, Horn said. The mock chemical decontamination will be set up at a side entrance to the hospital to avoid disturbing regular hospital functions.

Kelly said two or three EPA workers in white chemical suits would be walking through neighborhoods near the shopping center Monday as part of the drill. But while they may have appeared to be taking scientific measurements for a chemical release, they only were playing a part.

Kelly said the drill helps workers get in touch with equipment they might not often use.

"It gives us an opportunity to dress out in ... the moon suits," he said.

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