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News Story
Updated: 06/20/2014 12:58:31PM

Hazmat drill here reveals strengths; areas for improvement

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JOURNAL PHOTO BY KIM LEATHERMAN


An unidentified post office employee went into a special tent to be hosed off, emerging in what appeared to be a green trash bag. The scenerio was part of a drill.

JOURNAL PHOTO BY KIM LEATHERMAN


Post office employees gathered under the shade of a tree after a "suspicious package" triggered a drill of hazardous waste protocol. First responders were on scene within three minutes of dispatch.

JOURNAL PHOTO BY KIM LEATHERMAN


A member of the Highlands County HazMat team gently examines a suspicious package addressed to Lake Placid mayor John Holbrook.

JOURNAL PHOTO BY KIM LEATHERMAN


A mobile hazardous waste disposal unit was photographed through the chain link fence surrounding the Lake Placid post office.

By KIM LEATHERMAN

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A drill and evacuation to simulate a hazardous waste incident took place Thursday morning at the Lake Placid post office on Hillcrest Avenue. The drill was used as a training exercise for the post office staff, law enforcement, fire and rescue departments and Highlands County’s Hazardous Material response team.

Police, ambulances, fire and hazmat trucks surrounded the post office within three minutes of dispatch. The emergency call went out at 9:20 a.m., was relayed by dispatch at 9:22 and emergency agencies were on the scene at 9:25 a.m.

Dozens of first responders set up operation stations and a decontamination tent. Each team had very specific goals and worked together closely.

“We had some flaws,” stated Charles Andrews, Fire Service Supervisor. “Overall, the team performed well. There are a couple of minor details we need to improve on.”

A suspicious package was planted in the sorting room of the post office, unbeknownst to employees. Unfortunately, the package was sorted in the customary fashion and not flagged and reported.

The package was addressed to Mayor Holbrook with a fake address; the return label was from The Munsters with the famous show’s address. On the official-looking parcel was “You’re time is up.” Another warning sign was a white powder trickling out of it.

“We wanted to test our product sampling with an unknown agent,” explained Andrews. “Our system checks for over 60,000 chemicals. In a real situation, we would test the powder and if it came up as a protein, like Anthrax does, we would alert the FBI and State Warning Point and they would take over the criminal investigation.”

Andrews points out that, although the exercise wasn’t perfect, “at least the problem was caught in a training scenario.” That is the objective to training, practice, drill and make improvements.

“I was very impressed with everyone involved,” stated Andrews. “If this was a real scenario, I would have felt comfortable with the way it went.”




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