Protesters, leaks and rollovers, oh my!

Staff at the Umatilla Chemical Depot dealt with multiple challenges at a Monday emergency drill including: staged protesters at the depot's front and southeast gates, a simulated release of Sarin as detected by two perimeter monitoring stations, and the staged rollover and fire of a depot mobile air monitoring van.

Depot Commander Lt. Col. Tom Woloszyn said the many facets of the drill allowed staff to test against many things.

"It was an excellent exercise," Woloszyn said in a statement. "It was challenging and covered a number of areas in which emergency efforts need to be demonstrated. We gave special attention to the emergency response of our Army medics, firefighting and perimeter monitoring assets."

Emergency management officials participating in the drill hailed from Morrow and Umatilla counties, and Benton County, Wash. The drill was designed as a training exercise to test the workers' response to a staged, practice emergency - one of several held throughout the year.

Mary Binder, spokeswoman for the depot, said security staff responded quickly to the staged protesters, who were at the main gate and another on Westland Road.

While she listed several areas that went well, Binder said the staff always learns from the drills. After the several simultaneous incidents, she said some procedures need fine-tuning, such as how to handle the perimeter monitoring network.

Staff took about 13 minutes to alert near-by communities of the staged accident. Woloszyn said the goals is to break 10 minutes, but depot workers are still learning how to use the monitoring network.

The network creates a record of air purity by repeatedly taking air samples from the depot's borders to check for any chemical agents. It has been operational since May and must be successful for at least one year before the state will allow chemical weapons to be incinerated. Incineration is planned for early 2002.

Binder said the depot is still evaluating the time it needed to alert near-by communities of the staged incident. Such notification has become increasingly important after two leaks at a chemical depot in Utah in May. Though no one was injured by the leaks, staff there took about four hours to notify near-by towns. The Utah incinerator complex has been shut down since then and will be subject to congressional hearings in September.

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