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Mock drill gives emergency personnel response training

DEBORAH CORRAO / L’Observateur / August 12, 1998

TAFT – The OxyChem Cottage on Louisiana Highway 3142 was a beehive of activity Monday, aswarm with emergency personnel handling the collapse of a building with seven people trapped inside.

This was but one scenario as St. Charles Parish emergency workers frompolice, hospital, fire and Emergency Operations convened with a series of tabletop exercises.

These exercises took place in a mythical community dubbed “Abbottville,” after Don and Bev Abbott of Command Emergency Response Training of Indianapolis, Ind.

“Abbottville,” dubbed the town “where anything can go wrong,” is designed as a workshop of disaster, complete with tiny fires, derailments, chemical spills and other disasters.

“We try to pick the ones that could happen to you, tonight or tomorrow,” Abbott told the group headed by EOC Director Tab Troxler.

Complete with walkie-talkies, taped sound effects, toy emergency ambulances and fire trucks, the scene looked like a miniature train set, covering eight cafeteria tables.

Several scenarios were visited by the group during Monday and Tuesday, from chlorine spills to train derailments. The first scenario was abuilding collapse during demolition.

This, like all the scenarios, were taken from actual events.

In the drill, seven people were trapped in the rubble as the building pancaked down. Evacuations were carried out, a railroad stopped toprevent vibrations at the scene, shelters set up, emergency resources gathered and coordinated and even a press conference for the clamoring media was held.

The value of such drills, Abbott said, is to teach a pro-active approach to handling unexpected disaster, learning to think and plan ahead to minimize danger and maximize response.

“In an emergency, you have to be as flexible as you possibly can,” Abbott said.

His background, as Division Chief of Emergency Services in Indianopolis, brought him into training sessions which, to him, seemed inadequate to the task.

He tried slide shows and overhead projectors, but little seemed to communicate to emergency responders a real sense of what a disaster felt like.

One day, 10 years ago, Abbott got the inspiration from a Saturday-morning children’s program featuring a tabletop train set. He developed”Abbottville” and has used it ever since to bring a reality-based sense to disaster drills.

“Abbottville” has been used to teach more than 200,000 people in 31 states and three countries. It includes a downtown district, warehouses,chemical plants, railroads, grain elevators and a canal.

“The thing that’s most important to us is getting the results we want done,” Abbott told his class.

In Scenario One, the actual event covered three and one-half days and ended up with some fatalities, due to poor crisis management, failure to forecast possible affecting factors and an inability to coordinate resources.

“Somebody’s got to be thinking ahead,” Abbott advised.

The drill took approximately one hour. Detail was exact, down to a tapedvoice calling from the wreckage: “Help! Somebody help me!” Working with maps and the tabletop, the class communicated with hand- held radios to shut down the railroad, set up an alternate emergency operations center and an evacuation shelter, coordinate emergency resource access and evacuate hundreds of people.

Keary Savoie of the Emergency Operations Center conducted a press briefing, while Lt. Fred Oubre of the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office, AngieParsiola and Jonathan Jones of St. Charles Parish Hospital’s emergencymedical services helped manage the traffic in the area.

At the conclusion, a quick critique reviewed accomplishments and shortcomings.

The drills continued into Monday evening and all day Tuesday.

“It’s a good little exercise to sharpen our skills,” Troxler commented afterward.

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