Emergency responders team up for crisis drill

by Wes Mayer

Coweta County teamed with Carroll County and AGL Resources emergency response personnel Thursday to run a full-scale emergency exercise to test response resources.

The drill was set up by Jay Jones, Coweta County Emergency Management director, and coordinators with Carroll County Emergency Management and representatives of AGL Resources, the natural gas distribution company based in Atlanta. The drill began at 9:30 a.m. and continued until around noon, Jones said.

'Everybody learned a lot,' Jones said, 'and we're going to continue to build relationships with AGL Resources and Carroll County because of it. It was a great turnout, great response and great feedback.'

The scenario was centered around a natural gas leak in the Chattahoochee River. At 9:30 a.m., a boater near the bridge on Highway 16 called 911 to report smelling gas and seeing bubbles surface on the water. A motorist driving over the bridge also called 911 smelling gas. Fire departments and emergency services would respond to find the 12-inch gas vein beneath the river had burst, and the river would need to be evacuated.

From there, Jones and the other coordinators let the drill play out. With the bridge situated between Coweta and Carroll, the 911 call could either go to Carroll County 911 or Coweta County 911. Jones said, in this case, the calls went to Carroll County, and it was good practice to have their dispatchers transfer the necessary information to Coweta County dispatchers.

Jones said around 25 personnel responded, with representatives from the Coweta County Fire Department, Coweta County Sheriff's Office, Carroll County Fire Department, Carroll County Sheriff's Office, Emergency Medical Services and Whitesburg Police Department. With observers from county emergency coordinators and representatives from AGL Resources and Georgia Power, a total of around 45 to 50 people worked the drill.

The Coweta County Fire Department brought two fire engines to the scene along with the hazardous materials truck. Carroll County Fire Rescue arrived with their rescue boat, and safety personnel from AGL Resources were also present to demonstrate and teach response teams how to cap an underwater leak.

Personnel set up a unified command center next to the boat ramp near the river, Jones said. According to Jones, one of the greatest motivators for this drill was for the two counties' emergency response teams to be able to easily communicate and work with one another in case an actual emergency hazard like this occurred in the middle of the night.

For the unified command center, personnel used NIMS, the National Incident Management System. The system, designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, allows separate emergency response divisions to coordinate with each other with consistent approaches to situations and use of vocabulary.

After personnel played out the scenario and responded as if the emergency was a real situation, coordinators and observers got together, sat down and had a tabletop discussion about how they could improve.

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