HERMISTON - The giant blue tent popped into shape in just a couple minutes as air was forced inside.

Good thing, because Good Shepherd Medical Center staff may only have a few minutes to prepare to decontaminate people in the event that a chemical weapons accident would happen at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

About 15 staff members learned the procedures they would need to follow - such as how to remove decontaminated clothing and the showering of people who came in contact with the chemicals. At the same time, the staff learned how to protect themselves while taking care of the public.

On Thursday, the staff people and Bryan Hopkins of the Oregon Health Division went over the plans and how to set up the decontamination tent.

"We'll show you how to put up the tent and how to do this, but it's up to you guys to pull this off," Hopkins told the group.

Special equipment, like warm-air blowers and water bladders, would be needed, so the group went over how to use those too.

"If we couldn't handle something like this we shouldn't be here," said Ken Franz, the director of emergency services for the hospital. "So we're focusing on how to get it done."

The hospital will have a full-fledged practice run on March 15.

As part of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, a big portion of the hospital is being overpressurized. Including the support services addition, the overpressurization project will include 7,400 square feet and should be completed in August 2001.

The Umatilla County Commissioners approved $1.8 million for overpressurizing all but the kitchen, clinic and laundry at the hospital so it will be safe in the event of a chemical accident.

Just as systems in most area schools, Good Shepherd's system will create "positive pressure" within portions of the hospital so contaminated air can't get in.

A storage area is being constructed to house special supplies such as protective gear for hospital staff, ready-made meals and decontamination supplies.

As the McCormack Construction Co. of Pendleton works on the over-pressurization project, it is simultaneously working on an $860,000 addition to the hospital. The expansion will encompass the bio-med, laundry, conference rooms and other areas. By doing both projects at once, the hospital and CSEPP saved money.

The hospital's overpressurization project is one of several within the so-called "Immediate Response Zone" that CSEPP is working on. Most of the schools have already been pressurized.

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