An M55 rocket explodes at the Umatilla Chemical Depot. Nearby residents need to be evacuated. A school bus overturns along Rieth Road near Echo. A van bursts into flames in front of the depot.
These cascading scenarios were among the drills for members of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, keeping volunteers and staff on their toes for several hours last week.
For someone trained in handling the public side of such catastrophes, the job of quickly processing large amounts of information can be stressful. But for someone new to the job, such as volunteer Dar Brice of Pendleton, it can be a bit overwhelming.
"It's just amazing the amount of information that comes in," Brice said.
Brice, who retired from the state Department of Transportation a few years ago, was one of about two dozen volunteers who attended a two-day training course last week. The volunteers likely willbe called to supplement the emergency staff during emergencies at the depot and elsewhere.
The session largely covered handling information, talking with the media and dealing with the public. During the drill, which as held at the Joint Information Center in Pendleton, the "hustle and bustle" of the center astounded Brice.
"It kind of looked like chaos, but it was organized chaos," he said.
Brice said he left the training "impressed," noting that the session was filled by "a lot of dedicated people who want to do the right thing."
Though the aforementioned scenarios may seem a bit much, he said the many problems were beneficial for the trainees.
"These are the kind of things that could happen if we have an accident out there because people will be in a hurry," he said.
Korenza Burris, the public information officer for Benton County Emergency Management, said the training was a good experience for everyone, though her contingent lost about 10 people who went to help with the Seattle earthquake last week.
"Even though a few problems arose, it's a time to work out some kinks," she said.
Meg Capps, program manager of Umatilla County CSEPP, said the session was designed to "refresh the people who know and to train those who don't."
"It went really well," she said.
Twenty-two volunteers attended, Capps said, but not all necessarily would be needed to operate the Joint Information Center. Depending on the size of the event, as few as three volunteers might be needed to supplement the CSEPP staff.
Still, Cheryl Humphrey, the public information officer for Umatilla County CSEPP, said they could use "a few" more people for the volunteer base that could be called on during an emergency. Because the center may need to be open 24 hours a day, many people may be needed so that others can get some rest, she said.
For volunteer information, call 966-3703.