HOWLAND - "This is a drill" were the four words that preceded radio calls Thursday that otherwise would have been panic-inducing as the county handled a full-scale mock disaster.
Behind the former DIY Hardware store on Elm Road, a scenario was set up by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Trumbull County Local Emergency Planning Committee.
For the drill, a tanker full of titanium tetrachloride was parked behind the building, where it was struck by a car full of youths doing doughnuts in the snow covered parking lot, causing a major chemical spill.
The response to a mock disaster was a test by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency for numerous safety forces services across the county, including Howland safety departments, the Mahoning Valley Red Cross and Trumbull County HAZMAT.
The response to the spill was a test by the OEMA for numerous emergency management services across the county, including Howland safety departments, the Mahoning Valley Red Cross and Trumbull County HAZMAT. Members of OEMA were scattered around the county at various locations to observe the county's emergency operations, public relations, traffic control, and other aspects of how the exercise was handled.
The first responder on the scene about 9:30 a.m. was a Howland police officer who noted the chemical and its effects. He requested back up and emergency response for the victims. Both the victims and the officer reported burning sensations in their chest and an inability to breathe.
"We do all this stuff regularly, but we do it in sections," said Howland fire Chief James Pantalone. "Today is an opportunity for us to bring it all together, so it's a great opportunity, a great learning experience."
Emergency operating center
Traffic access and control
notification of response
HAZMAT soon arrived on scene to deal with the chemicals involved. One obstacle along the way included a placard on the tankard that incorrectly listed the chemical as ethyl alcohol, or standard drinking alcohol, which would not have resulted in the symptoms that the victims were experiencing. However using a database, HAZMAT was able to identify the chemical as titanium tetrachloride. They then and notified the necessary state agencies about the spill and possible contamination into a nearby Mosquito Creek tributary.
With so many agencies involved, a "SimCell" or simulation office was set up in the atrium of the DIY Hardware building. Here, representatives of the various agencies such as the county engineer's office, Environment Protection Agency, Trumbull County 911 dispatch and local hospitals fielded calls concerning actions to be taken on scene.
"When a real disaster happens, 90 percent of the stuff you talk about gets thrown out the window, but it's good to have those bare bones in place," said observer Al DeVengencie of Trumbull County Building Maintenance Department.
Actors posing as evacuees were sent to a mock emergency shelter at Blessed Sacrament Church in Warren. Jessica Jaros, disaster supervisor from the Northeast Ohio Red Cross, headed up about a dozen volunteers at the shelter.
"Our first response is based on needs. In this situation, since there's an evacuation we're setting up a shelter," Jaros said.
She said in the county there are about 20 volunteers on the chapter's disaster action team who are trained for larger emergencies. On Thursday, volunteers set up cots, registered evacuees and provided food for those in need.
Meanwhile at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, an emergency operation center was set up with heads of numerous departments. They managed the situation from a distance and were called upon to provide larger resources if necessary. Linda Beil, director of the Trumbull County EMA, headed up the center.
"It went fairly well. There was a lack of flowing information, but for what information we did have I think we did well," Beil said.
A common sticking point among the various agencies and offices was lack of smooth communication. Ernie Cook, executive director of Trumbull County 911, observed the mock disaster and its response.
"I think this is the best exercise I've seen. ... Adaptability is the key to everything," Cook said.
The mock accident wrapped around noon and everyone involved met at the Howland Fire Department on Niles Cortland Road for a debriefing. Vikki Bunting, field liaison for the OEMA said at the meeting that each department responded properly to the situation.
"They did very well. The HAZMAT and police departments got key points once on scene and requested the appropriate support," Bunting said.
Full-scale mock disasters are held once every four years so the OEMA can observe the county's preparedness. Results from the test will be available in about two weeks.