It was a firefighter, paramedic, health care official and
law enforcement agency's worst
nightmare come true. Fortunately, though, it was all make-believe.
And while make-believe might be the right term for what was going on
in Lincoln, it could not have been further from the traditionally
accompanying phrase "fun and games."
The day began at 7:10 a.m. with a real-world briefing for news
media at Lincoln Christian Church. Then for the next few hours,
everyone participated in role-play for disaster drills, including
The Logan County Fairgrounds was divided into sections that
represented different areas in Lincoln, and throughout the day a
variety of scenarios were acted out, not just there, but in other
parts of the town as well.
The first event took place at the fairgrounds and was an
anhydrous ammonia accident scenario. In that event, a pickup truck
pulling a typical anhydrous ammonia tank had a wreck near
Chester-East Lincoln School.
When police and fire arrived on the scene, gas was leaking from
the tank, children at the school had been exposed to it, and one
person was lying on the ground deceased.
While this was going on, another scenario was playing out uptown.
Someone had called in a bomb threat at City Hall, and the bomb had
been located by police in a parked car in the City Hall parking
While this was going on, a white substance had been discovered
and was deemed to be suspicious and sent off to Springfield to be
Later in the day a farm chemical spray truck would be stolen from
a farm services business and driven around Scully Park spraying.
What was first thought to possibly be insecticide was later revealed
to be a poisonous chemical.
The Scully Park scenario was also played out at the fairgrounds.
There firefighters donned protective clothing and headgear and
ventured into the park in search of victims.
After the spray truck had made its rounds, several in the park
fell ill. The fire department offered assistance to those who were
down, and in some cases carried victims to safety on their own
During the course of all these events, mock news conferences were
held to try to inform about what was going on, without panicking the
public. The media present played the role of trying to get
information out of public officials.
According to Dan Fulscher of the Logan County Emergency
Management Agency, all of this was done for one purpose: to help
local first responders and local officials to be prepared for the
In the event of a real disaster, whether it be a calamity of
terrorist activity or a catastrophic weather event, there needs to
be a plan that will help expedite emergency services and at the same
time assure the public that in the midst of whatever is happening,
there is a certain amount of control over the situation.
Part of the mock exercise included city and county officials, law
enforcement, and the Logan County Department of Public Health
speaking to the public through media services.
After the mock anhydrous ammonia accident, public officials
responded to media pressuring them for answers by holding a news
conference. At the mock news conference, Mayor Keith Snyder advised
the public of the accident that was under
investigation as well as the bomb threat.
County board member Rick Aylesworth also spoke, advising that a
state of emergency had been declared.
It was Nina Huddlestun from the health department who informed
the public there was anthrax in the area. Mike Geriets, deputy
police chief, also spoke to media about the events of the day thus
far and the investigations going on.
At a conference later in the day, county board member David
Hepler would participate along with Mark Hilliard, administrator of
the health department.
At both conferences Fulscher was there and spoke as well, though
he said in a real-world event, he would be much less visible to the
In general, the exercises that went on throughout the day were
well-organized, and responders appeared to know exactly what to do
in each case.
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As they went through the drills, they were observed by experts
who are trained to know what went right and what went wrong. Those
evaluators will present Fulscher with reports on what they
witnessed. This will allow the teams to make adjustments accordingly
in their emergency plans.
In addition to local organizations, state-level special task
forces were involved with this event. The Illinois Emergency
Management Agency was on hand and very visible as they participated
and observed the events.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System team, otherwise known
as ILEAS, was there. This is a special operations team who trains in
weapons of mass destruction. These people are highly skilled
individuals who are trained to respond with deadly force as needed.
Because they are a specialist team, media were not allowed to
photograph or video their faces; their names were not shared with
anyone; and for the most part, their portions of the exercises were
not made available to the media.
In addition to special forces, the exercises also used special
equipment from MABAS. The Lincoln and Logan County fire departments
belong to the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 51. The program
is designed to assist fire departments all over the state with
special equipment that might be needed during a specific emergency.
For the fire departments this is a huge asset, as much of this type
of equipment is rarely used, very expensive and therefore not often
a priority on a tight city budget.
For the exercises on Thursday, the first responders had a MABAS
tent complete with air conditioning. The tent could have been used
on-site as a command post, an emergency medic service location or
any number of things.
In addition they were using a large bank of emergency lights that
would have been of great benefit as nighttime fell on the mock
There was a final news conference that was part mock and part
real-world. During that time Fulscher was asked if the day had been
a success. He said that he considered that it had.
He reminded the media this day was eight years in the making.
During that period of time, a lot of planning was involved as well
as training for the individual scenarios, and also there were
tabletop drill days and much more.
Putting the mock drills together also involved a large number of
people behind the scenes. From the Lincoln mayor to the health
department, police, fire and county officials, everyone had taken
their roles seriously, and Fulscher said they had dedicated
themselves to the event, understanding the need to be prepared.
Fulscher was also asked how many real-world calls had come in
during the drills.
For the staff members who work in the 911 dispatch center, this
was a training day also. They were sending out mock alarm calls
throughout the day. Their role was to be clear and concise as to
what the emergency was and to get first responders headed in the
right direction as quickly as possible.
When real calls came into the office during the drills, the staff
needed to be able to relay to first responders that it was a real
call. To do this, they prefaced each radio call with the words,
"This is a real-world page." Fulscher said the department handled
their part of the exercises very well, and during the course of the
day there had been a handful of EMS calls, but no serious fire or
At the end of the day, this type of training is something that
will hopefully never be used in Logan County, but it should be a
comfort to know that if something goes terribly wrong in Lincoln or
Logan County, our first responders are well prepared to do all they
can to take care of us.
[By NILA SMITH]