ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Emergency Operations Center swung into action Wednesday as a simulated disaster near Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George was reported.
Teams from all over the county gathered to test their ability to handle phone calls, email and social media regarding the incident, including personnel from the St. George Fire Department, St. George Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Utah National Guard.
Wednesday’s disaster scenario was different from drills in the past, Pete Kuhlmann, Washington County Emergency Services director, said. For the first time, the drill involved a radiological spill and social media input.
Some volunteers and employees took turns making phone calls to the center regarding the incident, and reports were simulated on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to test the fact-finding abilities of the public information officers present.
At 8 a.m. a school bus collided with a white van behind the medical center. There was a small explosion. The scenario involved one fatality, 35 injured and many others taken to Dixie Regional Medical Center for decontamination.
The radiation source was identified as iodine-131 and cesium-137. Evacuations were called for in the immediate area, and “shelter-in-place” scenarios were implemented in or contemplated for other close locations, including Coral Desert Rehabilitation – used in the fictitious scenario for the eventuality of a wind change.
Each section was staffed by various city and county workers as well as numerous volunteers. Joel Tucker, who, during his normal days, is director of the Washington County Library System, was the lead public information officer, releasing information to media about the mock disaster. Also on hand to provide emergency communications, if needed, were members of the Washington County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, helmed by PIO Norman Smith.
Washington County Administrator Dean Cox was present at the drill. Cox praised the participants.
“It looks like they were active, involved and engaged,” Cox said.
Some of the phone calls coming into the Emergency Operations Center were disturbing, including reports of a nuclear explosion, police in riot gear protecting the site, police brutality against citizens, and the city being placed under martial law. Those reports were quickly discounted, and the information was never officially released.
Some phone calls were rather humorous, said Lona Trombley, who was answering phones as the PIO assigned to handle public calls. One of the callers claimed to be Nikki Sixx from the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe, she said; another man identified himself as Joe Dirtay; and the outlaw Jesse James called to offer a “militia of 300 men to protect the site.”
“His offer was politely refused,” Trombley said.
Kuhlmann said he was pleased overall with the simulation, which included 36 participants from various city and county agencies.
“Some things went well,” Kuhlmann said in a post-scenario interview, “but some needed improvement.”
Videocast contributed by Melissa Anderson, for KCSG and St. George News
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