CORVALLIS, Ore. – Civilian actors dressed up in biohazard protective gear that looks like moon suits, and members of the military wearing gas masks were participating in a multi-agency drill on Oregon State University’s campus on Friday.
Oregon State University’s Environmental Health and Safety Office organized the drill so multiple agencies would be more prepared for a real-life hazardous material scenario if it were to happen.
“This is an important piece because it gives us the opportunity to work with our fellow Hazmat teams on the civilian side and builds bonds and trust,” said Deputy Commander Richard Paetz with the 102nd Civil Support Team. “So in the event of a real-world emergency, we’ve already worked together and have that relationship formed.”
Paetz says in times of emergency, multiple agencies usually respond.
“When you’re working with a lot of agencies like this, there’s a lot of confusion at first just to establish what everyone’s role is,” he said.
Paetz says the CST, a National Guard unit composed of the Army and Air Force, responds to national emergencies, but many agencies aren’t sure of the CST’s role.
“Even though we train with a lot of different agencies, still, nobody knows what we really do,” Paetz said. “So the more we can get out there and the more we can get rid of all the confusion and questions, the better it is for everybody.”
The field training exercise had two hypothetical scenes. Paetz says everyone was responding to a hypothetical situation where an improvised explosive device went off in Reser Stadium and potentially contaminated civilians inside, who were played by actors during the drill. First responders pretended to clean the civilians’ bodies, then the actors proceeded to put on biohazard protective suits.
The second part of the drill involved a clandestine lab that OSU set up, Paetz said.
“That’s where the CST falls into place,” he said. “The lab was discovered and we need to find out what chemicals are there and then pass that information on to the incident commander.”
Paetz says a few years ago, somebody tried breaking into a bio lab on OSU’s campus. He says though the person was caught before any chemicals left the lab, first responders still need to be prepared for situations when there could be a real biohazard threat.
“Drills like this one give us that opportunity to do that,” he said.
Participating agencies in Friday’s drill include local fire departments, Corvallis Police Department, the 102nd Civil Support Team of the Oregon National Guard, Hazmat teams from Corvallis and surrounding communities, the FBI, Oregon State Police, the Benton County Health Department, OSU Student Health Services, OSU Public Safety, and OSU’s Environmental Health & Safety team.