Hazard exercise tests emergency response process

The Columbus water treatment plant looked like the scene of a disaster yesterday morning, but local emergency workers were instead learning how to handle a major hazmat incident, authorities say. The rescue drill simulated a chlorine spill at the water facility off of Spear Road and Southside Drive near the fairgrounds.

The drill included the Columbus police and fire departments, Bartholomew County deputies, Columbus Township firefighters, local schools, city utilities and state officials.

Capt. Mike Wilson, spokesman for the city fire department, said the teamwork between the agencies went well.

“The great thing of this type of an exercise is that the hazards are imaginary, but in that function we are evaluated,” Wilson said. “We actually have some external evaluators that look at what we are doing and they basically grade us after the fact. We go through an after-action period where we review the things we did well and the things we need to work on, as an agency, and then as the public safety agencies as a whole. It is a very useful tool for improving your response capabilities and our public safety abilities.”

One of the lessons learned was the importance of keeping the public informed, Wilson said.

“The biggest concern is that we keep those people away from any of those hazards,” Wilson said. “One of those things we learned today, we actually had real live calls and questions about what was going on and we know that in a real situation that is going to be amplified. So for the public, stay away, and be in tune with some sort of information medium so that you know what is going on.”

He said that getting the information out to the public as fast and as accurately as possible will be one of the priorities for public safety agencies. He suggested listening to radio, following social media, signing up for the Everbridge system alerts and following online news sites.