At 1:00 p.m. on Friday, May 17 a call went out on dispatch: “chemical spill incident reported at the REG facility, three known injuries.”
The call was part of an exercise, a mock disaster organized by Jasper County Emergency Management for training purposes.
During the exercise, all of the agencies involved treated it as if it were a real disaster, responding to the scene of the disaster and interacting with the other departments to get organized.
Jim Sparks, Director of Jasper County Emergency Management, said the point of the exercise is less about responding to the specific disaster and more about ensuring that all of the different groups and departments know how to interact in an efficient manner in the face of an incident.
With nine independent groups involved in the exercise, establishing a cohesive leadership structure quickly became important.
Leadership roles and other responsibilities such as media liaisons were quickly figured out as all nine groups worked towards a common goal. One of the main goals was to ensure that groups didn’t repeat actions or contradict another group’s actions, to maintain efficiency.
“We want to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” Sparks said.
Many of the organizations interact on a daily basis. It is common for both the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and the Newton Police Department to respond to the same call, or for the Newton Fire Department to respond as well.
Moving from two or three organizations to nine with a number of representatives from each rather than just one or two, creates a number of obvious problems though.
“This sort of exercise will let us know what we need to work on, what equipment we might be lacking and how we can better handle an instance like this in the future. It is essentially an audit of our departments and their interaction,” Sparks said. “Each group will go back after… over the next few weeks, they will evaluate their performance internally to see where they can improve and we will have a larger evaluation of the whole exercise.”
Emergency personnel taking part in the exercise included the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, the Newton Police Department, Newton Fire and EMS, Life Light from Des Moines Methodist, Grinnell Fire Department, Skiff Medical Center, Newton Public Works, Iowa State Patrol and the Jasper County Emergency Management.
Renewable Energy Group, Inc., a biodiesel producer headquartered in Iowa with a production facility located in Newton, allowed the exercise to take part at their facility. The company used it as an opportunity to brush up on their own safety and response protocols.