The Saratoga Sun -

Training for terror

 

Fred Broschart

A firefighter is loaded into a medical helicopter for a training exercise held Friday near the Sinclair Refinery. The firefighter was feigning injury after "rescuing" another person acting injured for the drill. After being loaded on the helicopter, he was flown to the hospital in Rawlins. The training exercise was part of a large homeland security terrorism response drill.

A training exercise of a simulated terrorist incident near the Sinclair Refinery took place on Friday with several agencies and personnel from the refinery coordinating a response to the event.

The exercise - held on Earth Day - simulated a failed act of sabotage at the Sinclair Refinery by an eco-terrorism group. The simulation was intended to give multiple agencies a chance to work together and communicate with one another so they will be better prepared to deal with a real emergency.

Numerous state and local agencies participated in the exercise. The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and the Wyoming National Guard represented the state. Carbon County Emergency Management, Sinclair and Rawlins police departments and Carbon County and Rawlins Fire departments were also involved in the exercise, as well as Sinclair Refinery's HAZMAT, safety and security teams. The Laramie Police Department Bomb Squad was on hand as were representatives of the American Red Cross. Carbon County Public Health department and the county coroner also participated.

"The most important thing is that we are able to communicate and work together," said Master Sergeant Daniel Butterfield of the Wyoming Air National Guard, one of the agencies involved in the simulation. "If there were a real emergency, we won't have to exchange business cards that day because we've already met and worked together," Butterfield said.

The exercise began around 10 a.m. with a radio call stating that a rail car at the yard adjacent to the refinery was leaking an unknown substance. The scenario also stated that a vehicle with Colorado plates had been seen fleeing the area with the occupants obscuring their faces. The scenario included two injured civilians near the railcar.

After an initial response by the Sinclair Police Department, the Sinclair Fire Department responded and attempted to evacuate the two civilians, but two of the firefighters were "injured" in the attempted rescue, spurring an even larger response by HAZMAT teams from the Rawlins Fire Department and the Sinclair Refinery.

After the HAZMAT teams suited up, they recovered the firefighters and civilians, with one of the firefighters being loaded into a medical helicopter operated by Classic Air Medical of Riverton, who flew the firefighter to the hospital in Rawlins.

Once the injured were removed, the Laramie Police Department bomb squad used a remote-controlled robot equipped with cameras and a mechanical claw to assess the damage to the rail car and determine the best way to deal with the situation.

Simultaneously, another incident was being simulated in the city of Rawlins. The Rawlins exercise was intended to mimic a car chase and crash involving the suspected eco-terrorists responsible for sabotaging the Sinclair railcar.

The command post for the incident response was established at the Carbon County Fire Station #2 on Rawlins' south side. It was from this command post where the response of all agencies involved was coordinated.

The biggest benefit of exercises like this one is to teach agencies how to work together and communicate and coordinate with one another, Butterfield said.

Differences in communications equipment, jurisdictions and other issues may stand in the way of communications and coordination when multiple agencies respond to the same incident. Exercises like the one Friday are an opportunity for agencies to learn about the issues they may face, and figure out how to overcome them, he said.

"We (the national guard) are learning along with everyone else," Butterfield said.

Exercises also give first responders an opportunity to practice deploying and using equipment that might not be used every day, such as the Laramie Police Department's bomb disposal robot, which cost $125,000.

The exercise also allowed agencies and first responders a chance to discover problems with technology or processes without lives being on the line.

John Zeiger, Carbon County Emergency Coordinator said Friday's exercise was overall a success, but identified areas for improvement, especially in the areas of planning and communication.

One issue was that the Sinclair Refinery personnel involved in the exercise had radios that were not compatible with the radios used by public agencies, which use a radio system called WyoLink that allows numerous agencies to coordinate. The hospital staff also experienced difficulty with communications and planning, Zeiger said.

"Anytime you have an exercise there are going to be communication issues," Zeiger said. "This is going to give us a good idea on where we need to improve."

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