IRRIGON - Emergency response preparations are on schedule for the start-up of incineration the Umatilla Chemical Depot, officials reported Wednesday at the Governing Board meeting of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.

The 53rd meeting of Governing Board was held at the Stokes Landing Senior Center.

"We're in very good shape," said Hermiston Mayor Bob Severson. "I'm real pleased that we're this close to burn."

The U.S. Army, overseeing operations at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, which stores about 300,000 tons of chemical nerve and blister agents, is scheduled to being destruction of the weapons in July.

Construction work on Elm Street and Hermiston Avenue in Hermiston will likely begin by June, reported Casey Beard, director of Morrow County's emergency management team.

The streets will be widened and traffic signals will be updated. CSEPP is working with the Oregon Department of Transportation on the project.

Beard said a detailed map of the planned evacuation routes, if a chemical release occurred at the depot, will be available next month.

"ODOT is studying traffic patterns right now to validate the basic design of the routes we have put together," he said.

Beard also reported that a surprise test of CSEPP's technologies went well. Hired hackers attempted to enter the secure communications system for emergency responders and failed, he said.

Grant Higginson, state public health officer for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said the test was conducted for all local health alert networks in the area, not just CSEPP communications.

"It's very good news," he said about the hackers' failed efforts.

Also at the meeting, Meg Capps, emergency manager for Umatilla County, said training for first responders on radio equipment will begin shortly.

Chris Brown, state manager for CSEPP, said preparations for the May 5 annual exercise in the area's emergency response are also going well.

He said the exercise this year will take place during the day to place more emphasis on the area schools' reaction to alarms coming from the depot.

"The schools asked to be a more active player this year," he said.

Previous exercises have been held at night, with schools practicing their response separately.

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