Dallas County EMA holding spill exercise to test response

Published 10:58 pm Friday, June 22, 2012

Gallons and gallons of hazardous materials pump through Dallas County on a daily basis and with an influx of rail and road traffic that carries those materials, making Selma is highly susceptible to a hazardous spill.

The Dallas County Emergency Management Agency, with the help of a $25,000 grant, is preparing next week for such a spill or any other various hazardous incident. The grant, from the Alabama Department of Transportation, will allow agencies such as the Dallas County Sheriff, Dallas County Volunteer Fire Departments, Alabama State Troopers and the Selma Fire Department and Hazmat a chance to respond to a fictional scenario on Thursday, June 28. The Demopolis and Marengo County Fire Departments will also be a part of the exercise. Demopolis is the regional Hazmat team, so in a real situation, Demopolis Fire and Rescue would help respond if the Dallas County agencies were unequipped.

“The EMA professionally contracted this grant out to Lee Helms of Lee Helms and Associates who have extensively planned with our local officials for months to put together a realistic scenario for our county,” Director for the Dallas County EMA, Rhonda Abbott, said.

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The exercise will test the response quality of not only emergency responders like the fire and police departments, but also fictional victims who will be transported to Vaughan Regional Medical Center so Vaughan and Care Ambulance can be professionally evaluated as well.

“Mr. Helms is going to bring a team of professionals in from outside of Dallas County that will evaluate the entire scenario,” Abbott said. “So we are not going to be testing ourselves, we are going to be looked at from other agents and evaluated.”

Abbott said the exercise is not meant to be a pass or fail test by any means, it is simply an opportunity to improve the response from different departments for a hazardous incident.

“The exercise is designed to establish the environments for all of the players to exercise their emergency operation plan and what their tactical inoperable communication plan,” Abbott said.

The entire scenario that has been constructed is meant to be entirely realistic and something that responders could easily encounter on a daily basis or hazardous material emergency. The exercise will be out of the way and Abbott said it will not slow traffic due to its location or cause any kind of commotion. Responders are not tested for speed, but more for the quality of their response and effectiveness so they will not have to utilize sirens or race through traffic.

“This will give our responders a chance to work together as a team and it will give them a chance to see their strengths and weaknesses,” Abbott said. “It will help the community tremendously because our responders will know how to effectively respond to different situations.”