Full Scale Emergency Radiation Response Exercise held this morning in Lander

(Lander, Wyo.) – A simulated radiation particle release was the subject of a full-scale emergency response exercise at Lander Valley High School Thursday morning involving a myriad of local, state and Wind River Reservation agencies. The drill was organized to follow all procedures if an actual radiation event had occurred.

In the scenario, there was an accident at the Idaho National Laboratory west of Idaho Falls, and a plume of radiological particles began moving west into Lincoln County, Wyoming. In today’s drill, evacuees from the impacted area arrived in Lander to a Community Reception Center (CRC) for evaluation, decontamination if necessary and beginning treatment, also if necessary. The decontamination and victim registration process was housed in the Bob Carey Memorial Fieldhouse, along with an incident command center.

Fremont County Public Health Nursing’s Teresa Nirider, who was acting in the capacity as a Public Information Officer for the event, said the purpose of the exercise was to test local response capabilities and their ability to partner with other local and state agencies. A similar drill was held two years ago for a simulated Anthrax spore release. The last actual “real-life” emergency response was several years earlier when the United States was seeing a Swine Flu epidemic and innoculation centers were set up across the county.

Thursday morning the parking area inside the Bill Bush Memorial Stadium housed the Wyoming Army and Air National Guard’s Military Emergency Operations Center (MEOC), and a secure communications trailer from the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security. The MEOC is a 38 foot-long trailer that expands to 14 feet wide and is equipped with full communications and weather monitoring equipment. From this trailer, the National Guard can monitor weather, media reports and be in communication with their Cheyenne headquarters, said Reservest Tim Lockwood. The Wyoming Region 5 Emergency Response Team from Riverton was also on hand, and Fremont County Public Health had its emergency trailer on site as well.

Inside the Bob Carey Memorial Fieldhouse, National Guard and other local personnel were suited up in “space suits” and meticulously scanned each “survivor” for traces of radioactive contamination. To make the drill even more realistic, tiny quantities of radioactive material were placed on several individuals to give the decontamination team confidence in their instruments and to make the event more “real” said Scott Ramsey of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, who was in charge of that part of the drill. He said the amount of radioactive material could be equated to a squirt of water into a swimming pool. “It’s very low level, just over background radiation.” He said any victim with a reading more than twice the background radiation would be decontaminated. “If people were exposed, we need to find that and get it off of them,” he said. “We also need to know what materials they are contaminated with, so appropriate treatment can be rendered.

The volunteer victims had their clothes removed and bagged, (they were wearing swim suits underneath) and then took a shower. After showering, they were scanned again. Some of the victims had to go back for two or more showers until cleared to continue the process. County10.com followed volunteer Diana Christensen of Riverton through the process (see photos below). It was determined she had moderate simulated contamination. Incident Commander Craig Haslam said the training was beneficial. “We have all the players together here to train together, test our communications capabilities and interact with each other.”

Photos by Ernie Over