Updated Thu, Dec 12, 2013 10:37 am
A hands-on, live-action training seminar took place Wednesday at the Athens County Fairgrounds giving first responders and emergency management personnel valuable experience in dealing with biochemical and terrorist incidents.
“It gives the county a chance to interact with the state,” said Athens County Emergency Management Agency Director Fred Davis. “It gives us a chance to have our county train with a simulated drug/HAZMAT incident ... for the (Ohio National Guard’s) 52nd (Civil Support Team) to be familiar with our county emergency personnel.
“It provides preparedness and knowing what you would do before an event would happen,” Davis added.
The training was set up by Athens County EMA, the local emergency planning committee for hazardous materials and the Guard’s Civil Support Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction based out of Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus. Also involved were the Athens County Sheriff’s Office’s Special Response Team, Richland Area Fire Department and the Logan Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team.
The scenario involved a fake anti-fracking extremist group that was planning on launching a chemical attack on Ohio University’s Convocation Center. Dan Pfeiffer, director of Athens County 911 and Athens County public information officer, said fracking was chosen because it is such a well-known topic of discussion.
The sheriff’s office’s Special Response Team made entry into a fairgrounds building and arrested two people. While inside, the team found what was initially suspected as a methamphetamine lab. Upon closer inspection, the team noticed that it was not a meth lab and it was dealing with unknown chemicals. At that point, HAZMAT was called to the scene. The unit accessed the scene and discovered additional evidence that needed processed and required the Civil Support Team from the National Guard.
In an adjacent room, the fake evidence included fliers and cash laced with an unknown chemical agent. Drawings and blueprints of the Convocation Center and Peden Stadium were found along with a schedule of games to be played at the Convo. A laptop also contained instructions on disseminating chemical agents, and a soap container usually found in public restrooms had been infused with the unknown chemical.
Pfeiffer said the fake extremists were planning on infiltrating the Convocation Center, using the tainted money to purchase tickets and concessions which would then be circulated amongst patrons. The laced soap would be placed in the restrooms to add to the number of potentially infected people. The mock bioterrorism lab essentially gave responders ever indication that a terroristic event was being planned.
“The biggest thing here today is the Civil Support Team. They’re working with local law enforcement, giving everyone a chance to meet and work together on a real-life incident but in a controlled environment,” Pfeiffer said. “It teaches the chain of command, who’s in charge and what has to be done in what order.
“It’s the teamwork you need to handle a situation like this, of this scale,” he added. “You don’t want to have to learn when it’s the real thing.”
Every month, the Civil Support Team travels somewhere in the state and undergoes training with local agencies. The last time this type of training occurred within Athens County was in 2009.
Athens County, however, is no stranger to the National Guard’s 52nd team. In 2008, it descended on Stewart and Guysville after suspected pipe bombs were found at two post offices. The team secured and disposed of the alleged bombs, which were later discovered to be fake. It also turned out that those fake bombs were placed to distract law enforcement during a bank robbery in Coolville. The robber was eventually caught and handed a long prison sentence.
Most recently, the Civil Support Team responded to West Union Street in Athens in April. A letter was found at the West Union Street Office Center (former HDL Center) that contained an unidentified white powder. After securing the scene and testing the powder, it was discovered that the letter contained dried toothpaste that had been used to seal the envelope. No charges were filed.