Responders prepare for disaster drill

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A debris pile constructed at Camp Johnson by National Guard members will simulate a collapsed building next Saturday for a disaster drill organized by the Vermont Department of Public Safety. (Photo courtesy of Vt. Emergency Management)

A debris pile constructed at Camp Johnson by National Guard members will simulate a collapsed building next Saturday for a disaster drill organized by the Vermont Department of Public Safety. (Photo courtesy of Vt. Emergency Management)

By MICHAELA HALNON

An emergency preparedness training that’s been years in the making is coming to Colchester.

From July 25 to August 2, nearly 5,000 volunteers, first responders and government officials statewide will take part in a variety of crisis scenarios, hoping to evaluate emergency response capabilities.

Next Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. is the town of Colchester’s designated slot. An exercise at Camp Johnson for National Guard members will occur the following day.

Colchester police, Center and Malletts Bay fire, rescue and technical rescue will take part in the town exercise, said Mark Bosma, public information officer for Vermont Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Nearly every official across the state has been kept in the dark about the drill’s specifics – including Bosma, who said this element of surprise better simulates a real catastrophe.

Colchester town manager Dawn Francis said the town was eager to sign up for the state drill. Preparing for a crisis is a priority for the town, she said.

“We have been extremely proactive over the past couple of years to get our organization ready for [an] emergency,” she said.

Francis said around 50 town employees will take part, some earning overtime pay. She said those costs did not sway her decision to participate.

“Any time we can hone our skills and be better prepared for an emergency, that’s a good thing,” Francis said. “I see the costs as minimal in terms of what we will get out of it.”

According to Francis, Colchester has taken part in several “table-top” simulation trainings presented by the state over the past few years.

Rescue chief Amy Akerlind said those drills are helpful but usually mimic smaller scale scenarios.

“The day-to-day stuff, we do that every day,” Akerlind said. “The bigger stuff is what we’re really looking to get out of it.”

The “big stuff” will include setting up a mock shelter full of volunteers acting as victims. Some may have medical needs with symptoms detailed on a card around their neck.

Bosma said these actors will be transported to nearby hospitals, helping the medical facilities test their ability to handle sudden influx of patients.

But a dramatic rise in first-response activity may prompt concern among civilians who mistake the exercise for a real emergency.

“There’s always a possibility,” Bosma said, adding nothing too alarming will be played out. “If someone sees something, it will most likely be more of a curiosity.”

The National Guard exercise might be more visually disarming, he said, but cannot be seen from the street. Bosma said Guard members will clear a debris pile that simulates a collapsed building.

The public will be notified of a real emergency through Vermont Alert, an emergency alert system or the media, a press release said.

Civilians interested in volunteering as actors should email Brittany Marquette at brittany.marquette@vermont.gov.